Should we even have a "Cosmology" prize?

As part of the discussion on the Gruber Prize being held over at Peter Coles's blog, the question whether a prize in one small part of astrophysics, namely cosmology, is a good idea? Not that I have checked in detail, but I doubt there are similar prizes in symbiotic stars, dwarf galaxies, intra-cluster gas etc. So why cosmology?

A quick squizz at wikipedia you can see that the Gruber Prize in cosmology is one of five international prizes awarded by the  Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, the others being in Women's Rights, Genetics, Neuroscience and Justice, as well as another prize for Young Scientists. These are all worthy prize areas, and my feeling is that this is effectively private money and they can give it to whom ever they want.

Looking a little deeper (i.e. reading wikipedia a little more) that the cosmology prize is in fact given to "a leading cosmologist, astronomer, astrophysicist or scientific philosopher for theoretical, analytical or conceptual discoveries leading to a fundamental advances in the field", which is a broader definition of cosmology than would spring into many astronomers' minds.

In fact, looking at the list of recipients, we can see that the 2010 winner was (the very worthy) Chuck Steidel. Chuck's work has focuses upon faint, blue star forming galaxies at high redshift, which would clearly fall into the astrophysics camp, rather than what a lot of people call cosmology.

Rather embarrassingly, I seem to have missed the announcement of the 2010 prize, have a vague recollection of the 2009 prize to Freedman and Mould, and didn't know that Dick Bond got the 2008 prize. The last I really remember is the Supernovae teams getting it in 2007; perhaps this is because a local was the winner. I should really keep my eyes a little more open.

As George Efstathiou points out on Peter's blog, there are other prizes out there, such as the Kavli Prize for Astrophysics, that have a very broad coverage.

I guess we didn't get into this game to win prizes, and so I don't personally mind the Gruber Foundation for setting up a prize for Cosmology.  It gives us, all astronomy, press coverage and hence visibility in the general population,  which can only be a good thing (I have heard grumbles from other groups of physicists on what media mongrels astronomers are).

So good on the Gruber Foundation. I have a few of my own cosmological papers they can have a look at, if they are interested :)


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