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If You're Aiming for a Prize...

Nobel Prizes tend to honor work conducted in only a handful of fields, a new analysis has found.

Researchers led by Stanford University's John Ioannidis examined the particular sub-disciplines into which papers associated with Nobel Prizes in Physics, Chemistry, and Physiology or Medicine fall. As they report in PLOS One this week, their analysis found, despite the breadth of the fields the prizes cover, five sub-disciplines account for more than half the awards given out between 1995 and 2017. These study areas are: particle physics, cell biology, atomic physics, neuroscience, and molecular chemistry. Overall, they note that only 36 of the 114 sub-fields they identified have received a Nobel Prize.

This, the researchers write, could influence how various fields are viewed by universities or research institutions and how they are funded. "It would be absurd to expect that all fields in science are having an equal chance of making ground-breaking discoveries and major advances. At the same time, it is also likely that there is some self-reinforcing mechanism that promotes the same fields again and again," Ioannidis tells New Scientist.