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Graphene Nobel Prize Committee Criticized For Inaccuracies 63

An anonymous reader writes "A leading researcher in the field of graphene has published a letter to the Nobel committee asking them to address significant problems with the factual accuracy of the supporting documents that laid the case for awarding Andrei Geim and Konstantin Novoselov the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics. Nature talks with letter author Walt de Heer about his claims that, aside from factual inaccuracies, the document diminishes the role of other groups and 'reads like a nomination letter.' At least one change has already been made by the committee."
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Graphene Nobel Prize Committee Criticized For Inaccuracies

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  • value? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by phrostie ( 121428 ) on Friday November 19, 2010 @10:24PM (#34288562)

    Noble prizes no longer have any value or worth.
    it's a social club, that is all

    • Re:value? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by levicivita ( 1487751 ) on Friday November 19, 2010 @10:31PM (#34288594)
      You may well be referring to several categories of Nobel prizes (e.g. peace prize, or economics) which indeed have become (or have always been?) an avenue for the Nobel Committee to make political and cultural statements. That is rather transparent to any reader willing to go beyond CNN's coverage of the matter. However, the hard sciences' Nobel prizes are highly credible and are taken quite seriously. It is reasonable for people to expect a high standard, in my opinion. Factual inaccuracies in rendering the decisions cast an undesirable cloud on the decision making process.
      • Re:value? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by CheshireCatCO ( 185193 ) on Friday November 19, 2010 @10:56PM (#34288742) Homepage

        Nobel prizes (e.g. peace prize, or economics) which indeed have become (or have always been?) an avenue for the Nobel Committee to make political and cultural statements

        The Nobel committee doesn't hand out the Bank of Sweden Prize for Economics. It's difficult to see how they'd then be using it to make statements.

        However, the hard sciences' Nobel prizes are highly credible and are taken quite seriously.

        The science Nobels have always been just as tentative and flawed as the Peace Prize. Einstein never was acknowledged for Relativity, for example. (He basically won it for the photoelectric effect work he did.) If you know many people in the sciences, you'll encounter more than a few with strong opinions about who should have gotten/shared/never received a prize.

        • I had heard that with Einstein's prize, for some reason they weren't giving it out for theoretical physics at the time, so they found that experimental work to be a good enough reason to get Einstein something.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            Einstein never did the experiment, though. He just explained the well-known, mysterious result. Just like he did with Relativity.

            It's true that the Nobels were intended to go to thinks that helped mankind, but it's also true that Einstein's work (to that point) hadn't really done a lot in that direction. Nor had Bohr's (Nobel that next year). On the other hand, Relativity seemed like it might still be wrong if you were conservative with your physics and didn't trust data much.

        • I may think it's somewhat of a shame that he wasn't acknowledged for Relativity, or somewhat of a misuse of the prize to give a nod to Relativity by awarding the prize for the Photoelectric Effect like giving an Oscar to an actor that deserves one for a movie performance that doesn't.

          But I also don't think it's any any way inappropriate to have awarded the prize for the Photoelectric Effect just on the merits of that work.

          • I think you're missing the point. The point is, the Nobel Committee has always applied a human, fallible standard to all of the prizes, even the science ones. Don't you think giving awards for their wrong work degrades the awards? It certainly has people complaining about the Oscars.

            (Also, I should be clear: Einstein didn't win it solely for the Photoelectric Effect. It's just the only of his discoveries that they named. So basically, they were saying, "Here's the prize, but we're only going to acknowl

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Chris Burke ( 6130 )

              I realize all that, which is exactly why I mentioned the Oscars, and winning a prize for something other than what the prize is technically being awarded for. So I think you are missing my point, which is:

              In this instance, the thing that the Nobel Prize was technically awarded for was in fact deserving of a Nobel Prize.

              When that happens in, say, the Oscars, people aren't complaining, they are nodding in agreement with the Committee's decision. An award that is both fully deserved for the specific accompli

              • Wow, that was dismissive and pretty rude. I'm going to hope it was unintentional.

                You're wrong. Across the board. People do complain about Oscar decisions all the time, even when they're given to deserving recipients if it's for the wrong wrong. Lengthy rants about these abound. If you've not seen them, that's fine (and really, you're a better person for it), but please don't deny that they're out there.

                Notice I never once denied that the PE wasn't deserving of the Nobel. You're completely and totally

                • It sounds like you're advocating another type of award I'd love to actually see: the hindsight impact award. What works from 50 years ago really enlightened future research and altered the course of science? What works seemed significant and ultimately led us down the wrong road for a very long time until we discovered their flaws? That would be a fun award process, but it'd probably be post-mortem for most of the recipients.

                  • I'm not particularly advocating that, although it does have an appeal, I agree. In this thread, all I'm saying is that any award giving within pretty much the lifetime of the recipient is bound to be subject to all kinds of flaws, both due to human bias and due to failure to see what will pan out and what won't. (The latter isn't so much a human failing as the simple inability to predict outcomes in complex systems.)

              • by bartwol ( 117819 )

                Your point, that this and other less defensible decisions by the Nobel Committee are all the result of fallible human standards is so uninteresting as to not even be worth mentioning. As if there could be an award for "the most important discovery or invention within the field of physic" that doesn't involve fallible human standards. What, you think there's an objective universal method of measuring "importance"? I doubt you do, so what's the beef? You think they could do better? Of course. What fallible hu

            • "...we're only going to acknowledge the work that challenges our ideas the least."

              Be carefull there, Einstein's explanation for the photoeletric effect challenged most of the physics of the time.

              • Yes, it did. But by itself, it had much less effect that SR did by itself. In one fell swoop, Einstein tossed out the time-honored notions of space and time, along with notions of simultaneity and constancy of measurements. People's perception of reality was literally being altered.

                The photoelectric effect merely claimed that light came in packets. That's not that radical. Come to it, Plank started that revolution more than Einstein. The real changes in thinking in physics came later, after Einstein.

        • Even More (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          The Nobel committee doesn't hand out the Bank of Sweden Prize for Economics. It's difficult to see how they'd then be using it to make statements.

          The Swedish Nobel committee does not hand out the Peace Prize either, that's the Norwegian Nobel committee.

        • Well, one casn easily arguee that Einstein's work on the photoeletric effect was way more relevant than relativity, it leaded the way to Quantum Mechanics, if nothing else. Also, the Nobel comitee was always a bit biased against purely theoretical physics. Special Relativity, being a different mathematical description of Lorentz's theory had little chance, and General Relativy was just too late to the game to get the award.

          Now, I have my disagreements with their decisions. It is just that in this specific c

          • Yes, but QM also rests on SR in order to work. So while it's true that Einstein helped birth QM with his photoelectric effect paper, SR was fully relevant to it. And in as much as GR had been published 5 years prior (and had undergone a fairly successful test a year prior to the award), I see no reason to have acknowledged it.

            Also, the Nobel comitee was always a bit biased against purely theoretical physics.

            Which I think makes my case: the Nobels in science have always been somewhat flawed. (Of course, you'll also have to explain how Bohr's prize the next year was any less theoretical

        • by Dabido ( 802599 )

          'Einstein never was acknowledged for Relativity, for example. (He basically won it for the photoelectric effect work he did.)'

          'If you check the award you'll see he received it for 'The Photoelectric Effect and other contributions to physics' I think relativity would come under the 'other contributions'. It may not have been a direct pat on the back for his Relativity work but it still covered it indirectly.

          • But not explicitly, which is the point. The original article has scientists grumbling about the citation for the current prize because they don't like the details. Same thing with Einstein's citation: they explicitly mentioned the photoelectric effect and entirely overlooked his much more significant work to the point where it's basically an intentional omission. In 1920, Einstein's name was most associated with relativity, there's no way that they didn't think about that work.

            • by Dabido ( 802599 )

              Actually, Relativity was mentioned as part of the award. In fact, in the presentation speech for the award it was mentioned first, followed by a kinetic theory relating to brownian movement, and finally the photo-electric effect explained using quantum physics.

              So, though the award is listed as it being given to him "for his services to Theoretical Physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect". The presentation speech makes it perfectly well known that the 'Theoretical P

              • Yes, it's mentioned in the speech. But it's only mentioned to say that it's surrounded by controversy. Arrhenius didn't say, "He did some fine work there," he said, in effect, "He's best known for this, but a lot of people [in particular, philosophers, not physicists] think it's trash."

                Compare how Arrhenius speaks (at length and in detail) about Brownian motion and the photoelectric effect. Most of the speech is devoted to the photoelectric effect and explaining how it works. He didn't even definite rel

                • by Dabido ( 802599 )

                  No, it's not 'only mentioned to say that it's surrounded by controversy'. He is mentioning it because it was what Einstein was most famous for.

                  Also, he only mentions one philosopher who bagged it, and said others acclaimed it.

                  'the famous philosopher Bergson in Paris has challenged this theory, while other philosophers have acclaimed it wholeheartedly'

                  Einstein and Bergson actually became great friends and Einstein said he respected him. A lot of physicists were highly critical of Einstein's General Theory of relativity at the time.

                  Arrhenius spent as much time on the Brownian movement as he did on relativity. It is hardly 'at leng

      • Re:value? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by clarkkent09 ( 1104833 ) on Saturday November 20, 2010 @12:37AM (#34289092)

        But why do they have to taint the science prizes by being so ridiculous with the peace prize? Kissinger, Mother Theresa, Arafat, Peres, Al Gore, Obama... Don't they realize that it seriously devalues the entire institution, not just the peace prize. I understand that it is given out by a different (Norvegian?) committee but Swedish Academy should separate itself from it or make them rename it or something.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Jalfro ( 1025153 )
          Well the peace prize is inevitably going to be more subjective than the science ones. Essentially it is a politics prize, though they did apparently draw the line at giving it to Churchill for his war efforts (they gave him a Literature prize instead!). But there are strong reasons for the awards you mention: Kissinger for making peace with China (though ignoring his subversive activities against Chile); Arafat and Peres for their attempt to resolve the Middle East problem. The problem here is that they
        • By all means, feel free to explain how the individuals you list are *ridiculous* candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize. I'd conceed that this list has names that are contestable, controversial, politically-charged... but ridiculous? The world is nowhere near that black and white, and a human life never fits one definition.

          I disagree with one name, I've heard counterarguments that I don't immediately toss aside (due to the source) on a few others... but I also can see how each of them has, for reasons stated

          • The point of giving someone a prize is that they have accomplished (notice the past tense) something worthy of it. At least five of the names (Kissinger, Arafat, Peres, Gore, Obama) were given the prize either prematurely or as a political gesture in order to encourage them to do something in the future. Notice that the Nobel prize that is actually widely respected (physics) is given only when the work is tested by time, on average 20 years later. Compare this with Al Gore's peace prize in 2007 for a docume

            • The point of giving someone a prize is that they have accomplished something worthy of it.

              No, that is where you are to narrow minded and simplistic. The [Norwegian] Nobel committee has a much wider view of what ultimately leads to peace.

              The typical prize is handed out for past accomplishments, and typically many Americans don't understand this aspect of the Nobel Peace prize. I suppose it's a logical trap due to your culture and society, from my point of view you hand out prizes for anything quantifiable.


      • However, the hard sciences' Nobel prizes are highly credible and are taken quite seriously.

        In my opinion, these have also slipped in recent years. Certainly they haven't sunk to the "homecoming queen" level of voting that the peace and economic prizes have seen. But there's still been a shift away from fundamental, amazing science to science that may have applications that happen to appeal to the committee. Graphene's a pretty good example - fundamentally very related to other things that have already

    • Most people would consider $1.4 million to be have a value.

    • Clearly Valuable (Score:3, Insightful)

      by andersh ( 229403 )

      That is clearly just your [rather meaningless] opinion, and it's not representative of the world's view of the Nobel prizes.

      Even the world's most populous nation, China, clearly believes the Nobel Peace prize is meaningful to the point of doing everything in its power to remove the stain on their nation's record!

      What is your problem with the prize? Is it that you don't like Kenyan, Muslim heads of state (end of sarcasm)?

      You present no arguments why the prizes have no value or worth, yet I can present any nu

      • by ediron2 ( 246908 ) *

        Wow, GP makes an unsubstantiated claim that the nobel is worthless and gets modded +5 insightful. Parent calls bullshit, and lists impacts, questions if there's political motivation for the diatraibe, then lists deserving Nobel-Peace-Prize names, the help the prize granted them and mroe, and gets called flamebait.

        Bravo, slashdot. The stupidity burns...

  • by toQDuj ( 806112 ) on Friday November 19, 2010 @10:26PM (#34288574) Homepage Journal

    Well, this is an understandable result of trying to hand out science nobel prizes. The science these days is more the effort of many groups competing and collaborating than that of a single individual. Picking out an individual therefore, worthy of the Nobel Prize, is bound to be inaccurate. The prizes should be given to groups instead...

  • Layman's summary (Score:5, Informative)

    by vsage3 ( 718267 ) on Friday November 19, 2010 @11:06PM (#34288764)
    I guess since IAAP (Physicist), I can try to translate some of the physics-ese. Here is the basic argument of the letter:

    1. One of the reasons Geim got the Nobel was that he "discovered" graphene. However, the paper the committee is using to establish the date he discovered it (2004) in fact has no reference to graphene but rather graphite, it's well-known cousin. This is an important distinction because a few other groups have graphene papers around the same time.

    2. Geim uses a method for creating graphene that is not commercially viable, yet has been credited with a revolution in electronics technology.

    3. One of Geim's collaborators goes almost completely uncited although his data is used in the document and appears credited to Geim.
    • I'm no physicist, but I'mma assume your post is of substance. And I hope others in-the-know corraborate/add to it.

      This is sorta thing that make slashdot more than buncha geeks posting loads of nonsense.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by DMiax ( 915735 )

      1. One of the reasons Geim got the Nobel was that he "discovered" graphene. However, the paper the committee is using to establish the date he discovered it (2004) in fact has no reference to graphene but rather graphite, it's well-known cousin. This is an important distinction because a few other groups have graphene papers around the same time.

      I am a physicist too and want to add a piece of info. The complainer purports that he had already obtained those results in graphene in 2004 but "did not realize it".

      This claim is what makes me throw away his claims altogether. Even taking the statement at face value if he did not realize the contribution to the subject is exactly zero, or maybe even misleading.

      I say this as one who was told "we basically did the same thing before you" about one of my papers when, in fact, they did not.

      • by TheLink ( 130905 )

        The complainer purports that he had already obtained those results in graphene in 2004 but "did not realize it".

        Really? That's hilarious. Some caveman might have obtained those results too after mucking about with some soot, just not realize it.

        There are zillions of results everyday, scientists are the ones that go "hmm that's interesting, why did that happen".

    • Re:Layman's summary (Score:5, Informative)

      by mathfeel ( 937008 ) on Saturday November 20, 2010 @09:25AM (#34290768)

      The "magic" in this case is not graphene, but rather good old Silicon Oxide. And that's why de Heer's work on SiC is not recognized and he is not credited for being first to isolate graphene. Let me explain

      People make graphene all the time as long as they are working with carbon. Trouble is, it is impossible to distinguish a single layer from a double layer from a triple layer when they are so tiny. You can probably use an expensive AFM to map the topography, but that's a pricy and time consuming proporsition. On SiC, you chemically etch away a some Si atoms on the surface layers, leaving you with one, two, or probably three layers of graphene. But it is difficult to control chemistry. How do you know WHERE your 1, 2, 3 layers are even if you have made them?

      That's where SiO2 comes in. In the case of prize winner, they were working with SiO2 substrate. Due to certain dielectric property turn out to have an interference effect with VISIBLE light that the reflected light from 0, 1, 2, 3 layers of graphene on top of it become distinguishable enough in color that the naked eye that a train graduate student can just look under an inexpensive microscopy and says here's a monolayer, here's a bilayer, and so on. (Beyond 4 layers it's hard to tell from bulk graphite). You cannot do that with SiC. Yes, the "scotch tape" method produced crappy graphene as far as electronic properties is concern (yet they still observer QHE at room temperature. That tells you how good a conductor graphene is), but that's why this method is not used any more pass 2006. But the discovery here is not graphene per se, but how to cheaply and easily identify it and as a result, the explosion of researches following their work.

      So I suppose you can say these guys got lucky caz they were working with the right substrate. But that's science discovery for ya

      REF: []

      • Replying to myself. On SiC, you can also deposit carbon vapor and they will--like snow falling--grow into few layers. The same problem is still present, how do you find them?
      • Actually you are a bit wrong here (on many counts)! Exfoliated graphene from HOPG has, actually, phenomenal electronic properties. On the other hand for example, epitaxial graphene (sublimation of Si from SiC), which I work with, is typically less pristine than exfoliated (scotch tape method) due to either a buffer layer between the graphene and SiC (when grown on the Si-face) or a difficult to control and poorly understand growth morphology (when grown on the C-face). There are other details here that I
        • This post is correct. I worked with exfoliated graphene (although we used a different type of tape to nitpick) and it had excellent electronic properties. The SiC method produced graphene-like material, but it was, until recently, not very certain that it was in fact graphene due to such strong bonding from the substrate layers. The carbon/copper solute -> freezing / CVD method looks promising.
          • by 631i41 ( 852729 )
            Thats what I said!!!! Exfoliated graphene has excellent properties while epitaxial generally has mobilities an order of magnitude lower (average 1000 to 2000 cm2/Vs but reported up to 7k or 8k). New techniques with hydrogenation to passivate the buffer layer on the Si-face have resulted in higher quality (more isolated from substrate) graphene. You are mistaken about the copper CVD method. Ruhoff's group has reported that there is no C solution in the Cu, BUT there is with a Ni based CVD. The method do
            • Ah. I haven't kept up with the progress in the past several months. I just was impressed with the Cu CVD method out of Korea and they mentioned a lower solubility in Cu than in Ni which resulted in fewer C layers upon cooling. That was just in a preprint though.
          • by 631i41 ( 852729 )
            Please re-read my original comment because I have said the same thing as you!
  • Not uncommon (Score:3, Insightful)

    by geogob ( 569250 ) on Saturday November 20, 2010 @05:14AM (#34290064)

    The kind of things that are pointed out in the letter are very common in the academic and scientific world. We see these kind of 'inaccuracies' all the time in scientific papers and talk, regardless of whether they have been peer reviewed or not. In this context, I even wonder why someone would be surprised to see this arise in Nobel prize nominations.

    First, the nominations are based on sources themselves having such 'inaccuracies'. Second, the Nobel committee is just another form of peer review and is also prone to make such 'inaccuracies'.

    Finally, I've read other post stating that politics are important in some other Nobel prizes (eg. Nobel peace prize) but, God forbid, not in Physics and similar. 'Politics' are always important -- not necessarily international politics or politics as most people mean it, but academic politics. It would be illusory to think otherwise.

  • I have worked with graphene for about a year now (I know, I joined the party a bit late) and have heard Walt speak a few times. It seems that Walt has always been a little bitter about this. Is his bitterness warranted? I think that he makes a strong case for himself and I am truly disappointed by the inaccuracies he has pointed out (they are substantial and valid in my estimation as novice scientist *see de Heer's letter*). There are a few things I'd like to add to the discussion. I do not doubt the m

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