Frank Wilczek, himself a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, wants one, not for himself in particular, but for seemingly brilliant work that doesn’t work out.
In the heady days of the late 1970s and early 1980s, many physicists—including me—thought they were on the cusp of achieving a unified theory of the fundamental forces. A striking prediction to emerge from this circle of ideas is that protons are unstable and will eventually decay, just as many radioactive nuclei do. It was widely hoped that experimenters would find ways to verify the prediction.
Sure enough, they did. Unfortunately, subsequent work revealed that the claimed observations of proton decay could not be correct, though the nature of the experiments’ flaws was never clarified completely. This story is not unique: In recent years a number of exotic physical phenomena—including magnetic monopoles, cosmological dark matter, axions and supersymmetric particles—have reportedly been detected, only for later, more sensitive experiments to come up empty.
Wilczek’s concept would work like this:
An anti-Nobel would be awarded for incorrect work that, had it been correct, would have merited a Nobel Prize. It would be awarded secretly, so no one need be embarrassed. The anti-Nobel prize would only come into play if the recipient did subsequent Prize-worthy work, in which case, the two would cancel each other out.
Cancel each other like matter-antimatter collisions.
We have, however, a similar prize already extant. It doesn’t directly address work that would be Nobel-worthy but for its failure, but it gets at the concept.
That prize is the Ig Noble Prize, awarded for work that gets its accolade from the monumental foolishness of the work.