An award that honors precision can get pretty fuzzy when universities do the counting.
In a scoring system that would befuddle any NCAA fan, competitive universities create their own rules for adding up their Nobel score cards.
So both Stanford and Harvard boosted their tallies when one economist -- Alvin Roth -- won Monday's Nobel Prize. Last week, UC-San Francisco and Kyoto University did the same, each adding stem cell scientist Shinya Yamanaka to their score cards of winners.
If the Swedish dignitaries dialed campuses to alert honorees, instead of homes, they would have to make conference calls.
The Swedes have awarded exactly 835 prizes since the contest was conceived in 1901.
The total number of prizes claimed by universities? Thousands.
If a laureate wandered their halls as a young undergrad, Columbia University claims credit -- an approach that has pushed it to the top of the list in Nobel recipients. The school even tallies novelist Orhan Pamuk, whose principal pre-Nobel affiliation was writing a novel in a university reading room.
Stanford, also on the top of the list, counts winners on the opposite end of their careers -- people who retired from academia elsewhere but land their final gig teaching at the prestigious Hoover Institution.
Even within a university, different criteria can create confusion. So while Stanford has a list of 19 current Nobel Laureates, last week President John Hennessy referenced a total of 26. Sometimes two visiting professors are included, and the tally jumps to 28. Yet the "Stanford Facts" website cites 27.
There are no hard and fast rules. The University of Cambridge in England claims writer Bertrand Russell, even though it fired him. Johns Hopkins and Columbia reportedly refused to give physicist Maria Goeppert Mayer a paid job during the Depression; now, because of her volunteer work in a lab, they claim her as their Nobelist.
Modern life offers time-space opportunities never seen by laureates like physicist Marie Curie, who won in both 1903 and 1911 yet never left Paris.
Now, scientists can be two places at once.
Yamanaka flies to San Francisco one week a month to supervise a lab of eight UCSF scientists.
And they often relocate during their careers.
This explains Roth's two-places-at-once achievement. He's still an official member of the Harvard faculty, yet held his Nobel news conference in Palo Alto.
The Stanford grad did his research at Harvard and remains on its payroll until Jan. 1 -- but arrived on The Farm this fall, getting a head start on a new job.
"He's residing here, researching here and teaching here, as a full member of the community," said Stanford's Lisa Lapin.
Nobel winners'research travels with them -- "the work continues, building on an initial discovery," she said.
Both Stanford and Berkeley claim Department of Energy director Steven Chu, who did his Nobel work at Bell Labs in New Jersey.
Economist Ken Arrow is on three universities' Nobel lists. Educated at the University of Chicago, he did his work at Harvard but now teaches at Stanford.
"In academia," said Lapin, "it's very logical."
Contact Lisa M. Krieger at 650-492-4098.