The Prize to Montagnier/Barre-Sinoussi surprises me a bit, though I think it’s well-deserved.1  Conventional wisdom back in the 1990s, at least with the people I hung out with, was that Montagnier wasn’t going to get a Nobel. The reasoning was that the Committee would feel the need to share any Prize with Gallo, but that Gallo had eliminated himself with his behaviour. (I’m not making judgements here, just passing on the general feeling at the time.)

Now it seems that the committee is OK with rewarding Montagnier and Barre-Sinoussi without even a mention of Gallo. I think that would have been unthinkable back in the mid-1990s, and shows how much times have changed.

On the other hand, I think the Committee was aware of the question. The reason I think this is that they rewarded three people (the maximum) even though HIV and HPV are at best an awkward marriage. The research leading to each discovery is completely distinct. Without going through the list of past winners, I can’t think of a single Prize going to such disparate lines of work — usually it’s to three people who worked on overlapping or closely-related work. Here the only relationship is “viral disease”, which is a pretty broad catch-all.

Since there’s not going to be much argument over zur Hausen’s merits, that makes it harder to argue for Gallo — they end up having to argue that zur Hausen would have to be removed from the Prize, which isn’t going to happen.

Sneaky people on the Nobel committee.

  1. I posted this as a comment on Sandwalk earlier, but I decided to include it here as well.[]