What is there to doubt? The Nobel Prize is the highest scientific award. The Academy has a strict protocol for awarding the prizes. Although, sometimes, life has sprung surprises on them in the process. Or rather, death. For example, in the case of the Nobel Prize being awarded to a dead man.
It is true that posthumous Nobel Prizes have been awarded, knowing of the death of the laureates. This is the case of the Swedes Dag Hammarskjöld and Erik Axel Karlfeldt.
Karlfeldt is one of the great poets of the early 20th century in Sweden. He became permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy of Letters. This is the body that awards the Nobel Prize for Literature. It is said that the committee chose him for the Nobel in 1918. But he turned it down because of his status as secretary. So they waited until his death in 1931 to award him the prize posthumously.
Hammarskjöld’s case is a little more dramatic. At the time of his death he was the Secretary-General of the United Nations. He had been since 1953, just eight years after the creation of the UN. In September 1961, on a trip to the Congo, his plane went down. His death sent shockwaves around the world.
The Nobel Peace Committee decided to award the prize to Hammarskjöld. It had not been with Mahatma Ghandi in 1948. The same award was not given posthumously to the Indian leader. Why? The Committee said: “there is no heir or entity that could receive the financial award”.
Then the Nobel Foundation corrected its statutes. It decided that the prize would not be awarded posthumously. With one exception: if the laureate died between the announcement and the ceremony.
But the Nobel awarded to a dead person did not meet that condition. In 2011, the Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded to Ralph Steinman. When they contacted him, they found out. He had died three days earlier.
In other words, he died before the decision to award him. However, it was decided to uphold the decision. The Prize Committee issued a statement. It said, “The events that have occurred are unique. They are unprecedented in the history of the Nobel Prize”. We are sure that the heirs were very much in agreement with the Academy’s decision.