Vote for inflation Nobel Prize

So who do we think would be the right recipients for any Nobel Prize that might be awarded for inflation assuming the BICEP2 results hold up? (update 28-3-2014: Since people keep commenting that this is premature let me stress again that this is a vote based on the assumption that the experimental results hold up and the theory is agreed to confirm inflation, see my earlier post on this for my somewhat skeptical take given the current standing. Despite the uncertainty it is still of interest to think about who are considered the main discoverers of the inflation theory because there are a lot of news reports that are simplifying the history)

Cast your votes in this poll. You can vote multiple times so you can vote for up to three winners for a theory prize and another three for an experimental prize. (multiple voting  is now closed)

Update (22-Mar-2014): After a few days we can see where this voting is going so thanks to all those who voted so far.

The Guardian has now also discussed the same question and made the point that the Nobel committee will have a hard choice, but you will see that they have not identified all the candidates that we have here. Some people have responded by saying that we should not be thinking instantly about who should win a Nobel yet because it is too soon. I  disagree with that. The story about who are the main people behind this discovery is of immediate interest and by focusing on the possibility of Nobel prizes I think we highlight the human side of the discovery. It is true that we should be cautious about the uncertainty of the discovery until it has been confirmed but that does not stop us talking about the consequences, either scientifically or sociologically. There is a danger of being too negative and missing the opportunity to make some science and worthy scientists known to the wider public while their gaze falls fleetingly on upon physics and cosmology.

So what do the poll results say? The first thing that stands out is that the theorists are getting the most votes, especially Linde, Guth, and Starobinsky. Linde has now rushed ahead of Guth because he suddenly got 50 extra votes. The theoretical bias is perhaps understandable because the media (including me) has said more about the theorists and they have been familiar to us for many years. Indeed Guth and Linde in particular have been tipped for the Nobel long before this discovery. The experimenters are new stars so they have a smaller fan club and get less votes, but the Nobel Committee may see it the other way round. If BICEP2 is confirmed by Planck then it will be clear that a Nobel worthy discovery has been made even if the theory behind it remains uncertain. When the prize was given for accelerating cosmic expansion the committee made it clear that the award was for the observation irrespective of how theorists interpreted it and they are likely to see this discovery the same way until it is clear that inflation is the correct explanation rather than the alternatives.

The Nobel committee could in fact play things in several different ways:

  1. A prize for the experimental side first followed by the theory prize later
  2. A prize for the theory side first followed by the experiment
  3. A combined prize for both
  4. A prize just for the theory
  5. A prize just for the experiment
  6. No prize at all.

I predict option 1 assuming confirmation, but any of the others are quite possible. Choosing the experimental prize is already difficult. There is an interesting story about how it was caltech postdoc Brian Keating who originated the idea for this experiment and then persuaded Jamie Bock to take it on. This would suggest that Keating and Bock are key candidates for the prize but Keating seems to have dropped out of the picture at some point so he does not get many votes. John Kovac has been promoted as the main leader of the experiment but Chao-Lin Kuo led the team that really made the instrument work and Clem Pryke’s team made crucial discoveries for the analysis. I find it painful to think that at least one of these people will have to be left out but that is the way the Nobel works. If I am forced to make a prediction at this stage I would go with the voting so far and say it will be Kovac and Bock who take the honour on behalf of the BICEP2 team while  Uros Seljak would make a fitting third laureate for his seminal work on B-modes that made the experiment possible.

On the theory side that I already covered there are three classes of theoretical work on inflation that could eventually be rewarded. There is the initial realisation that inflation may be a feature of cosmology and could solve certain problems (flatness, horizon, monopole etc) Guth, Starobinsky,  Kazanas and Sato are independently responsible for this idea. Then there are the people who made crucial predictions of gravitational waves and anisotropies in the microwave background. The ones who got there first are Starobinsky, Einhorn and Mukhanov. The committee favours such predictions for obvious good reasons so any of these people could be up for the prize. Finally we have those who have worked on specific models including Linde, Albrecht and Steinhardt. The problem for these people is that no particular model for inflation has been shown to work yet. It is possible that that work has not yet been completed or that a more recent specific model will be shown to be right. However Linde is such a big figure in the field of inflationary cosmology who has been tipped for the Nobel for years already that I think the weight of nominations will be in his favour and if that is the case then he is surely deserving enough. In my opinion the destination of the theory component of the prize is not yet determined even if the experimental discovery is confirmed and will depend on work that is still to come otherwise I would expect it to go to Guth, Linde and Starobinsky as indicated by the voting.

Update 27-03-2014: see the comments for information about Erast Gliner who published an inflation theory in 1965. I have added his name to the poll but too late.

47 Responses to Vote for inflation Nobel Prize

  1. shafiqifs says:

    How could they award Nobel Prize to the so-called physicists who are pursuing physics which is fundamentally incorrect because there is a standing open challenge to all the physicists of the world since last one & a half years at as Big Bang Theory including Cosmic Inflation has been mathematically, theoretically & experimentally proved as baseless in the published paper “Experimental & Theoretical Evidences of Fallacy of Space-time Concept and Actual State of Existence of the Physical Universe” which is available at the journal site at

  2. nitpicker says:

    Sorry to nitpick but this is a “poll”, not a “pole” (unless it is a singularity in the complex plane).

  3. Jin He says:

    Why are you so enthusiastic with Big Bang theory? Nobel committee is not so stupid to claim Big Bang prize.

    • Jin He says:

      You probably know that Nobel committee has not claimed General Relativity prize for over 100 years.

  4. Jonathan Kerr says:

    Good to see Starobinsky up with the front runners. When someone has a good idea, there will always be others who do things with it later. If we don’t reward the true originators of theories, it can discourage people from risking their time on searching for breakthrough ideas.

  5. This Big Bang and the Cosmic inflation (gravitational wave) impact on the microwave polarization is funny:

      • Leo Vuyk says:

        About the relation with evaporating big bang black holes:
        Max Tegmark:
        It turns out that the physical process by which inflation generated these gravitational waves is the same process (discovered by Stephen Hawking) by which black holes evaporate. Whenever there’s an event horizon, quantum fluctuations cause it to emits radiation. For an evaporating hole, you look at its horizon from the outside; in our cosmos, we look at the horizon (basically the region from beyond which light can’t reach us) from the inside. Until today, there was no experimental evidence for Hawking’s prediction – but now there is! 🙂

      • Philip Gibbs says:

        This was also said by the theorist at the press conference but it does not really make any sense at all. For one thing Hawking radiation produces mostly photons, not gravitational waves. It also produces them from a horizon, but there is no horizon involved here. Whichever mechanism you think produced these waves (and there are many candidates), none of them are similar to Hawking radiation. Even if there were some similarity, calling this evidence for Hawking radiation would be very twisted. Hawking radiation is radiation that leaks energy away from a black hole and this is not.

      • Leo Vuyk says:

        I like the black hole big bang theory postulated by Neil Turok.
        New for me was that he said:
        the CMB is in fact the “inside of the expanded evaporating black hole”!! Which also should be cyclic and part of a multiverse.
        However Turok should realize that this expanding black hole is perhaps also splitting into smaller black holes creating these B-Modes and the CMB structure itself even equipped with a starting split like a navel cord, see :
        The Navel Cord Multiverse with Raspberry shape. and
        The Raspberry Shaped SuperSymmetric Multiverse without a CAT paradox.

  6. David Brown says:

    Before the Nobel Prize Committee gives a prize to any of the cosmological inflation theorists, I think that they should consider that there might be 2 basic possibilities: (1) inflation 100% compatible with Newton-Einstein gravitational theory, or (2) inflation compatible with Milgrom’s acceleration law.
    “… once one replaces ordinary Feynman diagrams with stringy ones, one does not really need spacetime any more; one just needs a two-dimensional field theory describing the propagation of strings. And perhaps more fatefully still, one does not have spacetime any more, except to the extent that one can extract it from a two-dimensional field theory.” — Edward Witten “Reflections on the Fate of Spacetime”, 1996
    I conjecture that there are 2 basic ways that spacetime can be replaced: (1) multiverse with neither boundary nor interior (Linde’s chaotic inflation), or (2) multiverse with boundary and interior (Milgrom’s acceleration law).
    According to Kroupa, the empirical evidence backs Milgrom. If gravitons can never escape into the interior of the multiverse, then my guess is that Linde’s theory of chaotic inflation is correct. However, I also guess that the space roar will rule out Linde’s theory (and all other theories incompatible with Milgromian dynamics).

  7. Twang says:

    Nobel prizes have rarely or never awarded to theorists in Astrophysics/Cosmo? Why this primordial gravity discovery will be different?

  8. anonymous says:

    The many votes for theorists is in part a sample bias. If I had to guess, a lot of theorists follow your blog and are more familiar with those names listed.

    On the experimental end, it seems we’ve “skipped” a generation. The most recent prize for CMB work was for COBE. What about everything else since then? Should there be a prize for the acoustic peaks? Experiments from 10 years ago gave us some of the first good handles on cosmological parameters such as flatness. There has also been a lot of parallel work between the experiments themselves and the technologies that have enabled them. Look at how the CCD folks earned their well-deserved prize a few years ago. Plenty of room for multiple prizes. The one person conspicuously absent from your history of these experiments is Andrew Lange, who got a lot of these programs off the ground (often literally). If he were still alive today, he’d be a candidate up there with the rest of them.

    After writing that last paragraph, I realize that the same is true on the theoretical end. These days, anyone can run CAMB and get all the CMB power spectra in seconds. It’s all too easy to forget the couple decades that led to that. This is a case where the phenomenology had to come a long way. You listed Seljak, and you could easily add his coauthor Zaldarriaga. The fifth person on the panel during the press release is Kamionkowski. There are many others. See all of the papers cited in the introduction of the BICEP2 paper.

    • Philip Gibbs says:

      Thanks for your interesting observations. I agree that there is a sample bias in the voting and a whole lot of other biases too. This is not meant to be scientific. I am not sure that we get more theorists than experimenters on this blog. I have reported a lot about experiments and I think both theorists and experimenters are interested in both theory and experiment. However the theorists are more likely to comment and perhaps to vote. I think the voting reflects the fact that the theorists have been known for longer as I mentioned, but the Nobel committee does award key experimenters irrespective on standing in the scientific community.

      There are many smaller steps in between the big milestones that tend to be awarded big prizes but to write a fair history of everything would require a lot of research and writing. That is not what I am trying to do here. This is just about who might get a Nobel. Nobels are only given for the kind of major discoveries that make big news or significantly affect the way we live, not for every step along the way. I agree that Lange was an important figure in the full story and might have been a candidate had he still been living.

      Seljak started working on polarised anisotropies alone before joining forces with others. I have not analysed individual contributions beyond that so you could be right that others deserve joint credit. However there is not likely to be a shared Nobel for this part on its own and it is optimistic of me to think that even one of them would be included given the nature of what the prizes are normally given for. As I mentioned in previous posts the phenomenologists are overlooked for Nobel’s. For example when the Higgs Nobel was being discussed key phenomenologists such as John Ellis were seen more as people who might have an opinion on who deserved the prize than people who might be in line for it. I dont claim this is fair but it is the way it works. Ellis has Maxwell and Dirac prizes/medals.

  9. cormac says:

    I suspect option 1 is most likely. However, there is a downside to this sort of discussion that you have not mentioned, namely that it deifies a particular prize in a way that many scientists are deeply uncomfortable with.
    If this discovery is correct, it is a very big deal, irrespective of any prize, It will probably result in at least one Nobel, but so what? That’s beside the point.I wish someone would say this loudly in the media…

    • Philip Gibbs says:

      It goes without saying that the thrill of discovery beats any form of recognition, but you cannot play down the importance of the Nobel in science and in the public consciousness. Scientists often act casually and pretend that it is not important to them but then when they win they give interviews in which they mock all the people who ever doubted them. Nobody wants to make a discovery and not be recognised for it. The Nobel is the ultimate recognition. With a Nobel, top American universities will offer you well-paid positions without pressure to teach if that is what you want. You are worth your salary just to be there in name and you can work on anything you want. You will spend the rest of your life being treated like a VIP genius wherever you go. People will value your opinion on just about anything and the recognition extends outside the scientific world in a way that is unobtainable by any other means.

      Furthermore, from the point of view of communicating to the public the Nobel is a way of expressing the importance of a discovery. The Nobel has been around a long time and is a part of world culture that is known to everyone at an almost proverbial level. There is no better way to measure the importance of a discovery than to say it worthy of a Nobel and it conveys the human side of the discovery in a way that is important to young people who might aspire to be scientists. No other accolade can compare, even the new prizes that give more money don’t have the same prestige. I don’t understand why some people want a belittle the Nobel’s importance in science and say we should not be talking about it.

  10. mitchellporter says:

    Off-topic, but I would like to state how incredibly annoying all the “Smarandache” spam in the vixra recent submissions is. Are all those authors making those submissions themselves?

    • Philip Gibbs says:

      I think we are getting a dump from some of the collections and journals of the Smarandache community. I dont see it as a problem.

  11. yeastbeast says:

    One name that is unlikely to be on any Nobel short list but is interesting to consider is: Erast Gliner. Starobinsky and Linde credit Gliner with the earliest inflationary theories (1965; 1970), although his models were not sufficiently developed to be taken seriously at the time. I recently became of aware of his work (he is a relative by marriage) and am intrigued by his story. I have made a Reddit page summarizing key points of Gliner’s work and would welcome insights from viXra readers. Please see:

    • Philip Gibbs says:

      Thank you for pointing this out. I have been trying to trace some of the history but had not come across Gliner yet. I think he could get more recognition if copies of his papers were put online for public access. Do you have copies you could upload somewhere? If they are not in English then translations would also help. People are likely to start looking more at the history of cosmic inflation and it would be good if Gliner and other pioneers can get the recognition they deserve when people start writing books about it.

      Guth and Linde are singled out because they related inflation to cosmological problems such as horizon, flatness, monopole and because they proposed scalar inflaton mechanisms. Although evidence for rapid cosmic inflation is now very good from CMB, there is not much empirical information about the correct mechanism or whether it solves the problems it is supposed to. That being the case it is only right that other people who proposed the general idea of inflation should get equal credit at least until we know more about how it worked. It is possible that Starobinsky’s inflation driven by the trace anomaly is closer to the truth or perhaps Gliner had some important ideas about how it worked that are not well known.

      I understand that Gliner is 91 and still alive. I hope he is well and following the latest news.

    • Philip Gibbs says:

      I had a look at Gurevich’s 1975 paper that you linked to on reddit…67G
      This paper anticipates many of the ideas about inflation that were to follow a few years later. In particular he is clearly connecting the horizon and flatness problems with a solution based on rapid exponential inflation before phase transitions. He also discusses the formation of galaxies from inhomogenieties left over from primordial fluctuations. The term metagalaxy is not very familiar now but he seems to be using it to mean a large scale region such as the observable universe. There is even mention of chaotic behavior and in the concluding remarks he talks about many metagaxies within a lambda-field world. It sounds a lot like nucleation of multiverses in an eternal inflation model to me.

    • Philip Gibbs says:

      I found a good historical account that includes Gliner’s work at

      • yeastbeast says:


        Thank you very much for looking into this. I’ve been trying to track down Gliner’s early papers and have not yet succeeded, so I will try to contact Gliner himself.

        I am a professional science journalist. I usually work in the field of biomedical research, but am now preparing an article about Gliner’s life story and his contribution to cosmology.

        Would it be possible to quote your assessment of Gliner’s work in this article? Also, perhaps I can give you a call to clarify some of the details of the ideas at hand. I must confess that I am very unfamiliar with this field and am somewhat confused by the distinctions between the theories. I’ve already had an extensive interview with Linde but much of it was over my head.

        Please let me know how and when I can reach you if you’re willing to talk.

        Best regards,

        Lev Osherovich

      • yeastbeast says:

        Thanks also for this historical account.

        You should also have a look at this 2002 paper by Gliner ( in which he outlines his various objections to current inflationary theories and reiterates his so-called nonsingular model of 1975. The appendix reprints the 1975 paper in its entirety.

        I am really not qualified to evaluate this paper, but the foreword by Vitaly Ginzburg gives a sense of how seriously Gliner’s ideas should be taken.

        For what it’s worth, Linde sees this paper as evidence that Gliner has rejected the very theories that he helped found. In my conversation with him, Linde claimed that it was this paper is why he no longer cites Gliner.


      • Philip Gibbs says:

        I think my present level of knowledge is not sufficiently expert for me to be worth quoting on this, especially without having seen the earlier papers. Linde is obviously much more reliable. It is a shame if Linde has stopped citing Gliner’s earlier papers just because he does not agree with the later ones. That does not make much sense to me.

  12. Nigel Cook says:

    Sorry, I can’t vote because all the “options” listed are equally crazy IMHO. Facts:

    (1) The data proves that some radical theory must exist that flattened (reduced) the gravitational spacetime curvature very severely, at circa 300 kiloyears after time zero, as compared to the standard cosmology (i.e. Robertson-Walker metric of GR).

    (2) This data is incompatible with any standard non-inflationary cosmology.

    (3) The only well known theory that models the data is the “inflationary” theory of Alan Guth, et al.

    (4) Hence, Guth and comrades have the only credible theory that explains the facts and deserve a prize which will make their idea into a dogma.

    Sorry, Dr Gibbs, I don’t buy this kind of pseudo-logic. The error is point (3) above. This is always the error, throughout the history of physics. A guesswork, arbitary mainstream idea with adjustable parameters plus a big neon advertising effectively suppresses the real theory, censoring dissent and misleading the gullible.

    All we need to replace “inflation” is a theory of quantum gravity that honestly predicts in quantitative detail (i.e. without inflation’s arbitary fiddling) the weak gravity strength at early times in the universe. We have such a theory. But it doesn’t have big neon adverts… Please feel free to delete this comment if too long (or too depressing). 😦

    • Nigel Cook says:

      [Correction: arbitrary is mistyped above.]

    • Philip Gibbs says:

      All of your four strawman facts are completely at odds with what I have posted here recently and I would strongly disagree with each of them. I don’t think they correspond to anything anyone else has been saying either. In fact I’ve no idea where you could have got them from.

  13. Leo says:

    I hope this article is not yet another PR stunt, after the video in which Kuo brought the champagne to Linde. The paper hasn’t gone through peer review but you are arguing so hard for the BICEP2 Team for Nobel Prize?! Mind you some over-the-top act might get the opposite effect. Don’t over do it.

    • Philip Gibbs says:

      As I already said this is a discussion about who would be the right person for a Nobel IF the BICEP2 results hold up. You can read the other posts here to see that I maintain a reasonable level of skepticism about the results. They need independent experimental confirmation and further analysis on the theoretical side. Official peer-review is much less important here.

  14. duffieldjohn says:

    I’ve been thinking about inflation recently. I’m now having some serious doubts. It was proposed to solve the horizon problem and the flatness problem and make everything homogeneous. But on Peter Woit’s blog there’s Cormac O’Raifeartaigh reminding us it’s responsible for inhomogeneity too. Sean Carroll said this: “Faced with theories that fit all the data but seem unnatural, one can certainly shrug and say, ‘Maybe that’s just the way it is’”. I now think yes, it’s the way it is, and for good reason.

    If you read Kevin Brown’s formation and growth of black holes you can see him referring to the original frozen-star interpretation. He doesn’t favour it, but I think that’s the one that’s right. It has to be, otherwise your elephant goes to the end of time and back and is in two places at one. And there are parallels drawn between black holes and the early universe, see inflation on wiki. Imagine a “frozen star” early universe. You just don’t need inflation any more. It is utterly superfluous. So my vote is for none of the above.

    See blogs by John Horgan and Alexander Unzicker.

  15. […] Βέβαια αν η επιτροπή των βραβείων νόμπελ αποφασίσει να βραβεύσει την θεωρία του πληθωριστικού σύμπαντος μάλλον το βραβείο θα πάει στους Andrei Linde και Alan Guth. […]

  16. Inflation theory in its gazillion versions never worked, so that Guth himself has recanted it in a paper more than 100 pages long — according to Linde in his latest Financial Times audio-interview at:

    Neither Guth nor MIT commented — how could they, 100+ pages means you really, REALLY recanted it…

    Just as it is pathetic to see MIT still politicking to fetch Nobel for Guth (despite the Linde’s revelation), it’s also appropriate to regard Linde’s theory as Theory on origin of universes and take Guth’s name off the list of possible Nobel laureates. Once you recant, you recant. If you do it on 100 pages, you also basically poop on it.

  17. […] Petrovich Grishchuk … Η σχετική ψηφοφορία του ιστότοπου που έθετε το ερώτημα “ποιος πρέπει βραβευθεί με […]

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