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Beyond the Trio of Physics, Chemistry, and Medicine

In the midst of Nobel season, an op-ed piece in the New York Times says it's time to update the awards. Science and environmental writer Gabriel Popkin argues that science has changed since Alfred Nobel wrote his will in 1895. At that time, Popkin notes that the most exciting fields were physics, chemistry, and biology. "But the world of science has broadened and matured spectacularly since the late 1800s," he writes.

As an example, he highlights the work of the late ecologist Robert Paine, who, while working at the University of Washington, developed the influential idea of keystone species, which are an essential part of an ecosystem. But as an ecologist, Paine wasn't eligible for a Nobel, Popkin says. And neither are geologists, climatologists, crop scientists, and more, he adds.

"But as wonderful as it is to advance physics, chemistry, [and] physiology or medicine, it's at least as wonderful to tackle environmental problems, predict natural disasters, demystify how species interact, and educate a population to grapple with complex and important scientific topics," Popkin argues. "The Nobel organization should take a bold leap into the present and shine its bright light more widely — and unshackle itself from a 19th-century vision of what makes good science."

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