The Nobel Prize as a Reward Mechanism in the Genomics Era: Anonymous Researchers, Visible Managers and the Ethics of Excellence [Book Review]

Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 7 (3):299-312 (2010)
Abstract
The Human Genome Project (HGP) is regarded by many as one of the major scientific achievements in recent science history, a large-scale endeavour that is changing the way in which biomedical research is done and expected, moreover, to yield considerable benefit for society. Thus, since the completion of the human genome sequencing effort, a debate has emerged over the question whether this effort merits to be awarded a Nobel Prize and if so, who should be the one(s) to receive it, as (according to current procedures) no more than three individuals can be selected. In this article, the HGP is taken as a case study to consider the ethical question to what extent it is still possible, in an era of big science, of large-scale consortia and global team work, to acknowledge and reward individual contributions to important breakthroughs in biomedical fields. Is it still viable to single out individuals for their decisive contributions in order to reward them in a fair and convincing way? Whereas the concept of the Nobel prize as such seems to reflect an archetypical view of scientists as solitary researchers who, at a certain point in their careers, make their one decisive discovery, this vision has proven to be problematic from the very outset. Already during the first decade of the Nobel era, Ivan Pavlov was denied the Prize several times before finally receiving it, on the basis of the argument that he had been active as a research manager (a designer and supervisor of research projects) rather than as a researcher himself. The question then is whether, in the case of the HGP, a research effort that involved the contributions of hundreds or even thousands of researchers worldwide, it is still possible to individualise the Prize? The HGP Nobel Prize problem is regarded as an exemplary issue in current research ethics, highlighting a number of quandaries and trends involved in contemporary life science research practices more broadly
Keywords Human Genome Project  Nobel Prize  Research ethics  Fairness of reward mechanism in biomedical research
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