A UoB alumnus has been inaccurately described as a Nobel Peace Prize winner in the University’s advertising, reports Dylan Morgen

Written by Dylan Morgen
Last updated
Images by Gavin Williams

The University of Birmingham (UoB) has incorrectly counted one of their alumni as a Nobel Prize winner.

University of Birmingham alumnus, Professor Bullock, who graduated in 1985 with a BA in Geography, is listed by the university as a Nobel Prize winner. He worked for the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) organisation which won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.  

However, the Norwegian Nobel Institute confirmed to Redbrick that if an organisation wins a Nobel Prize, it is only the organisation that can state they are the Nobel Prize winner, not any individual. The Nobel Institute emphasised in 2012 ‘that it is incorrect to refer to any IPCC official, or scientist as a Nobel Prize winner.’ 

It is only the organisation that can state they are the Nobel Prize winner, not any individual

UoB uses  its 11 Nobel Prize Winners prominently in its advertising. The UK undergraduate prospectus pronounces: ‘Why Birmingham? The University has 11 Nobel Prize winners.’

There is also a large mural, named the ‘wall of achievements,’ at the UoB Dubai campus, with the names of 11 Nobel Prize winners, including Bullock. This mural is frequently used as the backdrop for student groups and dignitary pictures which appear on the UoB Dubai Facebook page.

The UoB Dubai webpage states: ‘Your son or daughter will set a firm course for a career in the future by enrolling in a university, which can name 11 Nobel winners among its alumni.’ 

Overall, there are five mentions of Nobel Prize winners in the 2020 UoB Dubai prospectus and two in the UK prospectus. 

The UoB has even given the name ‘Bullock’ to one of the six luxurious bedrooms in the boutique-style Hornton Grange at the UoB’s Edgbaston Park Hotel, ‘after a Nobel Winner.’

Donna Laframboise of the Canadian Financial Post wrote in 2013 that the chairman of the IPCC, Rajendra Kumar Pachauri, told thousands of IPCC members they were all winners of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. A copy of the Nobel Prize diploma with an IPCC attachment of appreciation was sent to senior IPCC members.  Laframboise wrote ‘the chairman profoundly overstepped his authority’ and ‘everyone should have understood this was mere rhetorical flourish.’ But she wrote, neither the Nobel committee, nor the IPCC nor the media called him out on it.

She continued that it was only after a defamation lawsuit involving an IPCC member claiming to be a 2007 Nobel Peace Prize winner, that a statement was issued in 2012 confirming individuals could not claim to be a 2007 Nobel Peace Prize winner.  

The American Fox news website reported in 2016 that ‘the University of Delaware has removed a reference from its website that described Climate Professor John Byrne as sharing the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, Junk Science reports. The spokeswoman added that when the error was brought to the university’s attention, it was immediately corrected.’ 

Universities have now agreed rules as to who they call their Nobel Prize winners; these are invariably  alumni and staff. The University of Cambridge excludes Nobel Prize winners who have held non-academic and honorary positions and the Wikipedia Nobel Prize listings exclude Chancellors ‘as these are invariably non-academic positions.’  UoB includes Lord Robert Cecil, a 1937 Nobel Peace Prize winner, who was Chancellor of UoB between 1918 – 44. Lord Cecil did not graduate or teach at UoB.

Universities have now agreed rules as to who they call their Nobel Prize winners

A spokesperson from UoB told Redbrick: ‘The University of Birmingham is proud of our late alumnus Professor Peter Bullock’s outstanding achievements in demonstrating the role played by soil in the Earth’s ecosystem and the impact of climate change on land degradation.

‘A staunch advocate of the need to treat soil as a sustainable resource, Professor Bullock spread greater knowledge about man-made climate change through his research and laid the foundations for counteracting it – being appointed to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which was collectively awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for its work.

‘We are grateful to Redbrick for highlighting how we mark the achievements of Professor Bullock and his IPCC colleagues, and will review how the University reflects/references his role in this important work whilst continuing to commemorate his outstanding contribution to work around man-made climate change.’