Nobel Prize and interdisciplinarity: a new scientific study on a difficult relationship

 In the last decades, high-impact science has been increasingly achieved through the combination of ideas coming from different disciplines. Nevertheless the most prestigious award in science, the Nobel Prize, is still awarding few individual categories (physics, chemistry, phisiology or medicine), favouring papers that generate very little interest outside of their awarded field.

A Nobel opportunity for interdisciplinarity”, is a new study by ISI Fellow Roberta Sinatra (Central European University, Budapest), Michael Szell (Central European University, Budapest) and Yifang Ma (Northwestern University, Evanston), just published in Nature Physics. The researchers analysed the interdisciplinary impact of 108 Nobel Prize-winning papers (25 in physiology/medicine, 43 in chemistry, 40 in physics), by looking at almost sixty thousands papers that cited them. Just about one third of them had a big impact in both the awarded and in at least another field, and there has been no award for work that has had impact on all three disciplines.

The scientists also plotted the top 10,000 papers in Web of Science in terms of citations after ten years: along with the majority of Nobel Prize-winning papers, there are 220 papers located inside the interdisciplinary shaded area, documenting the existence of high-impact interdisciplinary discoveries of direct relevance to physics, chemistry and the life sciences, in line with the global structure of science. Today, scientists from different disciplines work increasingly together on complex and previously intractable problems. Is this the right time – ask Szell, Ma and Sinatra – to adapt the most revered scientific reward to mirror the current research landscape?

A Nobel opportunity for interdisciplinarity”, Michael Szell, Yifang Ma and Roberta Sinatra. Nature Physics, 1st November 2018. Link: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41567-018-0314-6