The fact is, major prizes like the Nobel are a blight on the landscape of science. I believe that; so do dozens of scientists that I know. Of course, we can’t say so publicly without opening ourselves to accusations of sour grapes or, if we have already won big prizes, of lording it over the have-nots.

So why are the most prestigious awards bad for science? One good reason is that they strongly discourage cooperation, and foster all sorts of shady ethics. I’ve seen it happen; as soon as top scientists begin to realize that they have reached the lofty status of Nobel “contenders,” their attitudes towards life and science change. They become more suspicious of colleagues working in the same field, and more stingy about sharing results. At the same time, they take every step possible to ensure that the maximum credit goes to their labs. It is common...

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