Leading article: Age has not dimmed them

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The first of this year's crop of Nobel prizes was awarded yesterday to three scientists for their research on the immune system. The recipients were a characteristically international group – an American, a Canadian and a Luxembourger based in France. Their work led to new treatments for infections and efforts to stimulate the immune system to combat tumours.

That one of the winners, it subsequently emerged, had died just three days before the announcement produced a rare complication, in that awards are not usually made posthumously. Patently, an exception to this rule needed to be made here.

The untimely demise of Professor Ralph Steinman, however, and the quandary in which the Nobel Foundation briefly found itself, serves to underline something else at the start of this awards season: the distinction and durability of the prizes themselves. There can be no one, in any field of endeavour, who would not esteem a Nobel Prize above any other international award – less because of its monetary value, than because of the singular tradition that attends it and the rigour of the selection procedure.

Nobel laureates comprise the elite of the elite; and far from being devalued with time, the award has only increased in stature. More than a century after they were instituted, Nobel prizes represent a truly global award for our globalised times.