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Alfred Nobel vs.
All Mathematicians

The Nobel Prize is awarded in many fields of research...but not in mathematics. Why? And if not, how can two game theorists win the Nobel Prize this year?

The many stories behind the denying of a Nobel Prize in Mathematics approach that of legend, but have been debunked as myths.

One story is that Gosta Magnus Mittag-Leffler, a Swedish mathematician, accumulated a large fortune while antagonizing his peers, including Alfred Nobel who invented dynamite. When Nobel founded the great prize (originally for physics, chemistry, physiology, and medicine), he purposely omitted mathematics because his advisors admitted that it was possible that Mittag-Leffler (as the leading Swedish mathematician at that time) could be a winner.

Another story follows this same line except that the problem was not Mittag-Leffler's wealth but the "fact" that he had an affair with Nobel's wife. This story is interesting but quite false, especially since Nobel never married. On hearing this, some offer the alternate explanation that the lady must have been Nobel's mistress or that Nobel had proposed to her at some time.

Several recent authors claim to reveal the "true story" behind the oversight. For example, in a Mathematical Intelligencer article (2000), Mihaly Beck claims that Nobel dismissed mathematics as not being on the same level as sciences such as chemistry and physics. In fact, Beck notes that Nobel was basically ignorant of mathematics... his "mathematical knowledge did not exceed the four arithmetic rules and the rule of three."

For additional information (and some more stories), consider these websites: Math Forum's explanation, Nobel Prize Archive, Urban Legends Debunked, and Wikipedia's explanation.