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Last modified: Monday, December 7, 2009

Ostrom, in Sweden, joins fellow Nobel laureates in extolling virtues of collaboration, research freedom

Dec. 7, 2009

NOTE: View the live webcast of Elinor Ostrom's Nobel lecture at 9 a.m. Dec. 8 on the IU Broadcast site at The Dec. 10 Nobel Prize Award ceremony will also be at this site. You will need Adobe Flash Player to view the event streams.

STOCKHOLM, Sweden -- Indiana University Professor Elinor Ostrom joined fellow Nobel Prize laureates today (Dec. 7) praising the potential of collaborative research and celebrating what can be accomplished when bright and creative people have the freedom to pursue answers to compelling questions.

In her case, Ostrom said, the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, which she co-founded in 1973-74 with her husband and colleague Vincent Ostrom, provided opportunities for successful collaboration with researchers at IU and elsewhere.

Stockholm News Conference

Photo by Steve Hinnefeld

Oliver Williamson, professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, (left) and IU's Elinor Ostrom, the Arthur F. Bentley Professor of Political Science, will share the 2009 Sveriges Riksbank Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. Here, they entertain questions from media at a press conference today (Dec. 7) in Stockholm.

Print-Quality Photo

"The development of good, solid science requires environments in which you can discuss future ideas, some of your recent findings and where you would like to go next," she said. "I have benefited greatly from that environment."

Nobel laureates in economic sciences, physics and chemistry took part today in a news conference at Stockholm's Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, fielding questions from reporters from around the world who are in Sweden to cover Nobel Prize week activities.

Ostrom was joined by Oliver Williamson, her fellow laureate in economics, along with Willard Boyle and George E. Smith, recipients of the Nobel Prize in physics, and Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, Thomas A. Seitz and Ada E. Yonath, Nobel laureates in chemistry.

Ostrom, the Arthur F. Bentley Professor of Political Science and senior research director for IU's Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, will receive the 2009 Sveriges Riksbank Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences on Thursday (Dec. 10). The prize recognizes "her analysis of economic governance, especially the commons." She shares the award with Williamson, professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley.

She will deliver her Nobel Prize lecture on Tuesday (Dec. 8) at 9 a.m. Bloomington time at Stockholm University. (See for the live Webcasts of the lecture and Nobel Prize ceremony).

Asked about about applying her research to the problem of climate change, Ostrom said it's an issue that should be addressed at multiple levels, from the international talks taking place this month in Copenhagen to local and household-level decisions.

"I am very concerned that we not be persuaded the answer has to come from 'up there,' that international negotiations are the only thing that could happen and we should just sit around and wait," she said. "That is not a very effective way."

She said it's also important that people find ways to consume less energy by driving less, using solar power and insulating their homes. "There are a very large number of things people can be doing on a small scale that give them benefits as well as reducing externalities," she said. "We need to be getting those ideas out and helping communities figure out better ways of financing them. If we wait too long, it could be disastrous."

When laureates were asked about their backgrounds and what led them to science, Ostrom said she benefited from public higher education and the then affordable tuition in the University of California system. Her undergraduate and graduate degrees are from UCLA.

"I'm very, very concerned about the problems of kids today trying to make it through college," she said. "I had to work my way through, but I could do it."

While 10 of this year's 13 Nobel Prize recipients are Americans, the laureates said they expect more parity in the future, despite the lack of funding and restrictions on intellectual activitity experienced by scientists in parts of the world. Ostrom said she has "learned a great deal" from research colleagues in Africa, Asia and Latin America, but she also has seen difficulities, such as low salaries for researchers and a lack of modern technology.

"There are many problems that I see, and I have worked with private foundations a great deal to try to improve the facilities of my colleagues in other countries," she said.