(I'm annoyed that I can't find a reference to double check this now.)

I just got lucky and found a reference in Harriet Zuckerman's Scientific Elite: Nobel Laureates in the United States:

It's hard to make a comprehensive selection of relevant extracts, but here are some bits & pieces, since the article's paywalled:

I shall argue that the subsequent restriction of the scope of the physics prize stemmed from a determined effort within the Swedish physics discipline. Not surprisingly, Nobel Prize deliberations became enmeshed in the process by which various factions within the Swedish physical science community attempted to define and to legitimize their particular notions of physics: its objects, methods and goals.

[During the debate over awarding Einstein the Physics Prize], three of the committee's five members belonged to the Uppsala tradition of experimental physics — B. Hasselberg, G. Granqvist, and A. Gullstrand. The others were S. Arrhenius (physical chemistry) and V. Carlheim-Gyllensköld (mathematical and cosmical physics). The committee's strong experimentalist bias proved significant from the start in determining Nobel Prize decisions and for interpreting the statutes.

Debates on the role of mathematics and theory in physics that had begun in the 1890s carried over into deliberations on the prize. Hence, even in the case of a world-wide campaign for Henri Poincaré, in which his mathematical physics qua physics was delineated from his purely mathematical accomplishments, the committee did not see fit to recommend him for the prize⁸. In a protest note, Carlheim-Gyllensköld pointed out the committee's general unwillingness and inability during the first ten years to evaluate nominations in mathematical physics such as those of Boltzmann, Heaviside, Kelvin and Poynting⁹. Arrhenius had commented that Uppsala physicists consider "spectral analysis...the only part of physics worth pursuing"¹⁰. Indeed, Hasselberg did "all in my power to procure the prize" (1907) for A. A. Michelson, who had received but two nominations, not for his role in the aether-drift experiment but, rather, primarily for his work in precision spectroscopy and metrology¹¹.

Other examples abound. Thus the proposal for the 1908 prize was sabotaged partly by those who believed it "unjust" to award a prize to a theoretician, M. Planck, without dividing the honour with an experimentalist.¹³

The Einstein deliberation came at a turning point in the development of Swedish physics and of the committee. By 1923, after the deaths of Hasselberg and Granqvist, Oseen was elected to the committee as a regular member and was joined by his Uppsala colleague, atomic physicist Manne Siegbahn. Together with Oseen's friend, Gullstrand, the three Uppsala physicists commanded a majority on the committee [...] By promoting atomic physics, in which experiment and theory intimately progress together, he [Oseen] hoped to overcome traditional prejudices and to institutionalize a theoretical physics standing apart from abstract mathematical physics and mechanics. Yet, to be successful [...] they not only had to promote and legitimize their preferred research programmes, but would also have to eliminate what they considered insignificant specialties. Starting in the 1920s, the Uppsala group began a determined campaign to restrict the definition of physics within the Academy and with regard to the Nobel Prize.

in 1923, the new Uppsala group and Arrhenius attempted to eliminate astrophysics from the scope of the prize in physics. Arrhenius, who wrote the proposal, seems to have feared that the establishment of new Nobel institutions would threaten his own Nobel Institute for Physical Chemistry. [...] Previously, only Arrhenius's institute had been supported in this way, but during the war Carlheim-Gyllensköld suggested a department for cosmical physics that was later followed by detailed plans for an astrophysics centre²⁹'³⁰.

It goes on. More briefly, Swedish physicists' attempts to boost their own fields led to politicking within the Nobel Prize in Physics committee that shortchanged astrophysics, atmospheric physics, and physics that was too theoretical.

Peter Thiel warns of upcoming (and current) stagnation

by SilasBarta 1 min read4th Oct 2011121 comments


SIAI benefactor and VC Peter Thiel has an excellent article at National Review about the stagnating progress of science and technology, which he attributes to poorly-grounded political opposition, widespread scientific illiteracy, and overspecialized, insular scientific fields.  He warns that this stagnation will undermine the growth that past policies have relied on.

Noteworthy excerpts (bold added by me):

In relation to concerns expressed here about evaluating scientific field soundness:

When any given field takes half a lifetime of study to master, who can compare and contrast and properly weight the rate of progress in nanotechnology and cryptography and superstring theory and 610 other disciplines? Indeed, how do we even know whether the so-called scientists are not just lawmakers and politicians in disguise, as some conservatives suspect in fields as disparate as climate change, evolutionary biology, and embryonic-stem-cell research, and as I have come to suspect in almost all fields? [!!! -- SB]

Grave indictors:

Looking forward, we see far fewer blockbuster drugs in the pipeline — perhaps because of the intransigence of the FDA, perhaps because of the fecklessness of today’s biological scientists, and perhaps because of the incredible complexity of human biology. In the next three years, the large pharmaceutical companies will lose approximately one-third of their current revenue stream as patents expire, so, in a perverse yet understandable response, they have begun the wholesale liquidation of the research departments that have borne so little fruit in the last decade and a half. [...]

The single most important economic development in recent times has been the broad stagnation of real wages and incomes since 1973, the year when oil prices quadrupled. To a first approximation, the progress in computers and the failure in energy appear to have roughly canceled each other out. Like Alice in the Red Queen’s race, we (and our computers) have been forced to run faster and faster to stay in the same place.

Taken at face value, the economic numbers suggest that the notion of breathtaking and across-the-board progress is far from the mark. If one believes the economic data, then one must reject the optimism of the scientific establishment. Indeed, if one shares the widely held view that the U.S. government may have understated the true rate of inflation — perhaps by ignoring the runaway inflation in government itself, notably in education and health care (where much higher spending has yielded no improvement in the former and only modest improvement in the latter) — then one may be inclined to take gold prices seriously and conclude that real incomes have fared even worse than the official data indicate. [...]

College graduates did better, and high-school graduates did worse. But both became worse off in the years after 2000, especially when one includes the rapidly escalating costs of college.[...]

The current crisis of housing and financial leverage contains many hidden links to broader questions concerning long-term progress in science and technology. On one hand, the lack of easy progress makes leverage more dangerous, because when something goes wrong, macroeconomic growth cannot offer a salve; time will not cure liquidity or solvency problems in a world where little grows or improves with time.

HT: MarginalRevolution