After First Coffee, Alvin Roth 'Delighted' by Nobel

Pre-Caffeinated Economist Slept Through Call From Sweden

By Reuters

Published October 15, 2012.
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U.S. economist Alvin Roth, winner of the 2012 Nobel prize for economics on Monday with colleague Lloyd Shapley, was “surprised” and “delighted” when he got the midnight call at his California home telling him he had won.

Alvin Roth
harvard business School
Alvin Roth

“I am having my first sip of coffee right now,” said Roth, speaking to Reuters from his home before dawn. “I have mostly been celebrating by speaking on the telephone for the last hour. I am hoping that life will get back to normal pretty soon.”

Roth, a professor at Stanford University, and Shapley, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, won the award for research on how to match different economic agents, such as students for schools or organ donors with patients.

“We were called in the middle of the night. We’re in California, it’s still pitch-dark here and we got a telephone call,” said Roth. “I’m delighted to have been selected.”

“It was very unexpected, not unimaginable,” he added. “So yes, I am very surprised.”

Shapley, a retired professor emiritus, could not immediately be reached for comment. A spokesman for the university said he had not taught a course there for some time.

Roth said he expects to travel to Sweden with his wife to pick up the prize. He says it is still too early to say what he will do with the prize money.

He will be taking his morning classes as usual at Stanford after holding a press conference.

“Scientific work is a team effort,” he said. “Lots and lots of people are represented by this prize and I imagine I’ll be talking to some of them and it’s a good thing for many young people who work in the area of market design, which is the area my colleagues and I are trying to develop.”

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which made the award, said the 8 million crown ($1.2 million) prize recognized “the theory of stable allocations and the practice of market design.”

The award citation said Shapley had used game theory to study and compare various matching methods and how to make sure the matches were acceptable to all counterparts, including the creation of a special algorithm.

Roth followed up on Shapley’s results in a series of empirical studies and helped redesign existing institutions so that new doctors could be matched with hospitals, students with schools or patients with organ donors.

“This year’s prize is awarded for an outstanding example of economic engineering,” the committee added.

The economics prize, officially called the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, was established in 1968. It was not part of the original group of awards set out in dynamite tycoon Nobel’s 1895 will.


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