Visualizing Nobel Peace Prize winners in Freebase

When I watched Barack Obama accept the Nobel Peace Prize, I thought about how the world has changed since the inception of the prize, and how it will continue to change. Since the winners of the Prize are themselves a reflection of what’s changing, I thought I’d try using Freebase to visualize them over the century the Prize has existed.

What you can find out, with Freebase, depends on its coverage of the topics you’re asking about. So realize that what I’ll show here is possible because Nobel Peace Prize winners are a well-covered topic. Still, it’s wildly impressive.

The Nobel site tells us that 89 Nobel Peace Prizes have been awarded since 1901. I haven’t been able to reproduce that number in Freebase because there are multiple winners in a few years, and I haven’t found a way to group results by year. But for my purposes this related query is good enough:

That number, 100, isn’t as closely related to 89 as you might think. It’s less by the number of years no award was given, but more by the number of recipients in multiple-award years. Perhaps a Freebase guru can show us how to measure those uncertainties, but I’ve eyeballed them and I don’t think they invalidate my results.

How did I wind up querying the topic /award/award_winner? It wasn’t immediately obvious. I spent a while searching and then exploring the facets that emerged, including:

The crazy thing about Freebase is that, in a way, it doesn’t matter where you start. Everything’s connected to everything, so you can pick up any node of the graph and re-dangle the rest.

Except when you can’t. I haven’t yet gotten a good feel for which paths to prefer and why.

But in the end I came up with the kind of results I’d envisioned:

1901-2009 nobel peace prize winners by gender
male female

1901-2009 nobel peace prize winners by nationality
male female

Taken together they show a couple of trends. First, of course, we see most female winners after about 1960. Second, we see a more even geographic distribution of female winners because, prior to 1960, most winners were not only male but also American or European.

These results didn’t surprise me. What did is the relative ease with which I was able to discover and document them. I thought it would be necessary to write MQL queries in order to do this kind of analysis. I’d previously done a bit of work with MQL, and dug further into it this time around.

But in the end I found that it was just as effective to use interactive filtering. Now to be clear, getting the software to actually do the things I’ve shown here wasn’t a cakewalk. I had to develop a feel for the web of topics in the domain I chose. And it’s painfully slow to add and drop filters.

But still, it’s doable. And you can do it yourself by pointing and clicking. That is an astonishing tour de force, and a glimpse of what things will be like when we can all fluently visualize information about our world.

4 thoughts on “Visualizing Nobel Peace Prize winners in Freebase

  1. President Obama should donate his Nobel Peace Prize funds to the U.S. government to pay for his two Scandanavian trips: 1. Copenhagen for his failing bid to push the Olympic games there and 2. To pick up Nobel Peace Prize funds. Each trip cost the U.S. taxpayer about $ 920,000 for Air Force One, security etc.

    And there is the issue of how the Nobel foundation funds invested in Swedish armament industry and in weapons of mass destruction.

    1. Originally the directive from Alfred Nobel was to place the funds in real estate or similar safe investments, however since 1953 the foundation was allowed by the Swedish government to invest in shares, which stopped the hither to depletion of the funds.

    2. The funds are at the moment approx US$ 500 million in total (it shrunk approx 20% last year).

    3. The management is not done by the foundation itself, it is split across several (about ten) portfolios managed by different asset managers in Sweden and other countri es, the spread across countries and by asset type can be found here:

    4. As late as 2005, there is an explicit admission from the foundation that there are NO ethical guidelines issued to the asset managers: – in Norwegian)

    5.There have been several ‘scandals’ surrounding the asset management, presumably deriving from the lack of ethical guidelines from the Nobel foundation

    – In 1998, the Observer made an investigation into the investments and found that many of the world largest arms manufactureres (including Boeing, British Aerospace, GKN och Smiths Industries) were in the Nobel foundation portfolios

    – in 2005, a Norwegian organization ‘Norwatch’ looked specifically into the portfolio handled by a US firm group called T Rowe Price who in their general portfolios have manufacturers of both cluster bombs and atomic bombs (Lockheed Martin). The Nobel foundation did not exclude the possibility that their funds were invested in such shares

    6. it is probable that such investments are held in the the Bofor group, which has a high level chemical plant in Ifshahan, Iran, which manufactures TNT, and quite likely sophisticated chemical precursors used to help create nuclear enriched uranium.

    However, dynamite and related products was the original invention and=2 0business which gave Alfred Nobel the means to set up the prize in the first place, and he was the owner of Bofors from 1894-96, during which he “had the key role in reshaping the iron manufacturer to a modern cannon manufacturer (…)” :

    No doubt the prestige of the prize to a large degree derives from the large sums involved, but is therefore also stained by the way the money was and is procured.

    But the prestige also derives from Alfred Nobels testamentary wish to promote peace and international understanding.

    The paradox the funds for the Nobel Prize are invested and retained in funds related to armament productions and weapons of mass destruction and many people are unaware of this situation.

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