Epitaphs and Economics: The University of Toledo and the Nobel PrizeDecember 11th, 2012
What do you want written on your tombstone? This is actually one of the questions I ask the medical students who interview for a position as a Urology Resident in the University of Toledo Urology Program. Most of the interviewees seem shocked by the question, then recovering from the idea of considering one’s death in the midst such a stressful situation, they take stock and recognize the deeper meaning of the question. For, in fact, most of us will not write our actual epitaph—rather we will choose it by the life we live. Are you demonstrating to others what you value most in the life you are living?
Almost all of us have heard of the Nobel Prize. But did you know that it began in response to a mistaken obituary? Alfred Nobel was born in 1833 to a Swedish family of engineers. He was a chemist, an engineer and an inventor with 355 inventions to his name—the most well known being dynamite. As you might imagine, the inventor of dynamite amassed quite a fortune during his lifetime.
In 1888, eight years before his death, Nobel was surprised to read his own obituary, entitled: “the merchant of death is dead”. In fact, it was Nobel’s brother who had died, but the negative content of the obituary left a deep impression and Nobel acted to change the imprint he left upon the world. Given that he valued knowledge and action, he decided to use his wealth to establish a yearly prize for those individuals who were responsible for the “greatest benefit on mankind”. Now and for perpetuity, when we hear the name Nobel, we think of those who have used knowledge to make the world a better place.
In this context it is worth considering the mission of The University of Toledo: to improve the human condition; to advance knowledge through excellence in learning, discovery and engagement; and to serve as a diverse, student-centered public metropolitan research university. I’m proud of the many things the University of Toledo has accomplished. And now I get to add one more thing to our collective pride. The University of Toledo has been recognized as playing a role in this year’s Nobel Prize in Economics. Alvin Roth, one of two recipients of this year’s Nobel Prize in Economics, won his award for “the theory of stable allocations and the practice of market design”. He has invited me to join him as his guest to watch the King of Sweden place the medal around his neck. In coming blogs I’ll explain how The University of Toledo helped Alvin translate theories of market design and game theory into real world solutions for patients with kidney disease.