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Transplant sharing Gurus wins Nobel

Posted Oct 22 2012 12:00am


I rarely read the finance pages. They always seem rather dull reporting what the Roman Emperor Augustus is supposed to have coined “festina lente” which means, “making haste slowly”. The alternative phrase given the progress made with the global economy over the last few years might be “getting nowhere fast”.

However, this headline caught my eye the other day. “The Nobel Prize for economics has been awarded to Americans Alvin Roth and Lloyd Stapley for their independent work on how best to bring different parties together for mutual benefit”

It is not really a Nobel Prize, the economics Nobel Prize committee award is a more recent introduction than the inaugural Nobel Prizes and it has a lengthy name. You can look it up on Google. Professor Shapley did the underpinning maths way back in the 1990s and Professor Roth applied them to develop algorithms for all manners of situations. He used dating as an example, I think to get attention rather than to set-up a dating agency, as my paper implied. The algorithms were not actually designed to arrange marriages. They were to analyse ways to match things up. Roth and Stapley discovered a rule that allowed the best matches to be made for schools and schoolchildren, medical students and their first hospital jobs, and most importantly  as the newspaper said setting up life-saving kidney transplant operations. 
They got the Nobel Prize for that – well done Roth and Shapley. They developed something that actually works rather than trying to perfect an abstract model. In recognising the ethnical and cultural constraints in the real world and working with them, they provided the basis for an allocation system that works in our imperfect world. A lot of theoretical economics deals in perfection; Roth and Shapley were interested in answering the question “how do we get this to work for the benefit of everyone?” not how do we achieve perfection. Congratulations to Professors Roth and Shapley
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