From what I've read in Wikipedia, John von Neumann made a stupendous number of contributions to economics, computer science and mathematics. Why, then, didn't he receive a top award in any of these disciplines?

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    $\begingroup$ This is discussed on Quora: Fields was awarded only once while he was eligible (1936), and it was not "top" as it was just established that year, he was not physicist enough for Nobel in physics, and Turing and Nobel in economics were only established after his death. $\endgroup$ – Conifold Feb 11 '19 at 8:31
  • $\begingroup$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because there's no way to answer a "why" . Unless there's direct evidence of a McCarthy-style blackball, that is. $\endgroup$ – Carl Witthoft Feb 11 '19 at 12:34
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    $\begingroup$ Fields medal is restricted to YOUNG mathematicians only. The only year when von Neumann could qualify was 1936. Many top 20 century mathematicians were not awarded a Fields medal, for example Kolmogorov, Leray. $\endgroup$ – Alexandre Eremenko Feb 12 '19 at 3:36
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    $\begingroup$ @CarlWitthoft Conifolds comment did a pretty good job $\endgroup$ – Prince M Feb 13 '19 at 5:29
  • $\begingroup$ Also apparently the Field medal was not intended in the begining to the topest mathematicians. See: nature.com/articles/d41586-018-00513-8 and mbarany.com/Fields.html $\endgroup$ – Josué Tonelli-Cueto Feb 13 '19 at 9:21

I don't know about the Fields medal, but he could not have won the Nobel prize since the only appropriate one would have been the one in Economics, which was awarded for the first time in 1969, 12 years after his death. And the Turing award was awarded for the first time in 1966, 9 years after his death.

  • $\begingroup$ Related trivia, and probably Urban-Legend material: "One of the most common -and unfounded- reasons as to why Nobel decided against a Nobel prize in math is that [a woman he proposed to/his wife/his mistress] [rejected him because of/cheated him with] a famous mathematician. Gosta Mittag-Leffler is often claimed to be the guilty party." $\endgroup$ – Carl Witthoft Feb 11 '19 at 12:36
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    $\begingroup$ @CarlWitthoft It is a urban legend. $\endgroup$ – José Carlos Santos Feb 11 '19 at 13:04
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    $\begingroup$ @CarlWitthoft your comment is heavily off topic $\endgroup$ – Prince M Feb 13 '19 at 5:31
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    $\begingroup$ @CarlWitthoft Please don't propagate wrong information like this. The very quote itself says that it is unfounded. $\endgroup$ – Robert Furber Feb 15 '19 at 19:14
  • $\begingroup$ @RobertFurber and I wrote that in my comment. $\endgroup$ – Carl Witthoft Feb 18 '19 at 14:37

At the inception of the Fields medal it was intended to encourage young mathematicians, hence the age restriction. Nash was famously overlooked for the Fields medal because it was thought that ''he didn't need encouragement'' and was already on his way.

Also why did Poincare not win a Nobel Prize in Physics despite being nominated many times? One reason is the sheer breadth and variety of his achievements which made it very hard to zoom in on one particular achievement that could be used as the basis of being awarded the prize, probably a similar phenomenon happened with von Neumann as the range of his achievements was too much for anyone to even keep up with.

Polymaths typically don't win the prizes you might expect as no-one can keep up with their work, let alone single out a few things that can be made into a case for an award.


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