October 21, 2018
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White House not holding event for Nobel Prize recipients

Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Nobel prize winner Jeffrey C. Hall said he wasn't planning on going to the White House to meet with President Donald Trump even before the announcement that Trump wasn't meeting with Nobel winners.

U.S. recipients of Nobel Prizes for science and economics will not meet with President Donald Trump or be feted at the White House when they visit Washington this week, a break with past administrations.

Eight American scientists and academics were announced as winners of the prestigious prizes last month. Six of them were expected to attend a Nobel symposium at the Swedish Embassy on Tuesday. The annual event is typically timed to coordinate with a White House invitation for American winners.

“It’s just a scheduling issue,” White House spokesman Raj Shah said Monday. “The president congratulates this year’s Nobel laureates. The White House is unable to make an event work given the demands on the president’s schedule, including a 12-day trip to Asia.”

Trump concludes the nearly two-week trip to Asia on Tuesday, returning to Washington that evening. He originally planned to return to Washington on Tuesday morning, but extended his stay in Manila, the last Asia stop, to attend the East Asia summit Monday.

Although the White House event has not been held every year, it has been customary at least since the Clinton administration.

Jeffrey Hall, a newly minted Nobel laureate who retired to rural Maine, said Tuesday he’s neither surprised nor disappointed by the president’s decision. He said he already wasn’t planning to go to either the symposium or to the White House.

“I asked to be excused because I hate traveling from where I live,” Hall said Tuesday in a phone interview from his home in Cambridge, Maine. “You just can’t get there from here.”

Hall, 72, a retired professor from Brandeis University, received the Nobel Prize last month for Physiology or Medicine. He criticized the Trump administration, calling it “anti-intellectual and anti-science,” and said the opportunity to meet the president wouldn’t have drawn him to Washington.

Hall also said he doesn’t own a tuxedo and doesn’t know where to get one easily on short notice anywhere near his home.

“I haven’t been dressed up in years,” he said. “It’s never warranted to dress up here in rural Maine as a retired person.”

Trump’s decision for this first year in office has been a topic of interest among scientists especially, because of administration policies and decisions seen as hostile to research into climate change, pollution, pesticides and more.

The Nobel event typically takes place in mid- to late November, a tight window after the winners are announced in early October and before the Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm in early December.

The decision not to invite laureates to the White House was first reported by the science and medical news website Stat News.

“We went through the regular channels, as we always do, and this year because of the travel it just wasn’t possible,” Swedish Embassy spokeswoman Kate Reuterswärd said.

Scheduling the event is often tricky because of the busy fall legislative calendar, the Thanksgiving holiday and other complications, she said.

Chemistry laureate Joachim Frank of Columbia University is among the American laureates expected to attend Tuesday’s discussion and news conference at the embassy.

Frank said he was not contacted by the Trump administration either when he won or in connection with a White House invitation. In an email exchange, Frank said he would not have accepted the invitation if offered.

“I was very relieved that there would be no chance of him being present,” Frank said.

The other American winners are physicists Kip S. Thorne, Barry C. Barish and Rainer Weiss; geneticists Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young; and economist Richard H. Thaler.

Last year, the White House events for laureates was held Nov. 30, after Thanksgiving. The event, President Barack Obama’s final such meeting, was also notable for the absence of laureate Bob Dylan. The musician won the 2016 Nobel Prize in literature.

Obama did not hold the event in 2009, his first year in office, when he won the Nobel Peace Prize. He met with U.S. laureates each subsequent year of his presidency.

Bangor Daily News reporter Nick McCrea contributed to this story.


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