Three scientists who showed how the information encoded on strands of DNA is translated into the thousands of proteins that make up living matter will share the 2009 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, the Swedish Academy of Sciences said Wednesday.The trio are Venkatraman Ramakrishnan of the M.R.C. Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England; Thomas A. Steitz of Yale University; and Ada E. Yonath of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel. Each will get a third of the prize, worth 10 million Swedish kronors total, or $1.4 million, in a Dec. 10 ceremony in Stockholm.
Dr. Yonath is the first woman to win a Nobel Prize in Chemistry since Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin in 1964 (in case you are wondering, Miss Crowfoot wasn't an American Indian), and the fourth woman since 1903. (Marie Curie won in 1911, after winning the physics Nobel in 1903, and her daughter Irene Joliot-Curie won in 1935.)
From 1965 through 2008, during the heart of the feminist era, the Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded Chemistry Nobels to 84 men and zero women, which demonstrates conclusively to even somebody as ignorant of chemistry as me that Dr. Yonath's Nobel Prize is not an affirmative action token.
It's striking that in its three hard science prizes, the Swedish Academy of Sciences simply ignored all the political pressures for affirmative action and went about its business using the same objective standards as ever. This reminds me of something I wrote in a 2005 article about the Larry Summers brouhaha:
My wife asked, "So why hasn't the Nobel Foundation bowed to feminist pressure and started the usual crypto-quotas to make women feel better about themselves?"
"Because they don't have to?" I speculated. "After all, they're the Nobel Foundation.""Exactly," she shot back. "And Larry Summers is the President of Harvard. So why can't he stand up to the feminists, too?"