Did Bob Dicke deserve a Nobel Prize? It’s often deemed a waste of time to posthumously debate whether or not someone deserved a Nobel Prize (e.g. John Bell), but my argument actually has nothing to do with Dicke’s contribution to the early stages of laser science or his invention of the Dicke radiometer. On the other hand, my contention may be based on an incorrect legend related to the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR). I had always heard that Dicke had happened to sit next to either Penzias or Wilson on a plane and it was during this chance encounter that Dicke realized what they had discovered (and subsequently related his thoughts to whichever one was on that plane). Now, according to other sources, Penzias had heard that Dicke was searching for the CMBR and called him to discuss it.
Now, as we all know, Penzias and Wilson won the Nobel Prize for their discovery. The manner in which the legend had always been relayed to me was that had it not been for Dicke, they never would have figured out what they’d found and thus I’d always thought he (and perhaps Jim Peebles, David Wilkinson, and one or two others – maybe even George Gamow for first predicting the CMBR before it was temporarily forgotten) deserved to share in that award. But this belief was partly predicated on just how it was that Penzias and Wilson figured out what they’d discovered. So, does anyone know for certain just which of these stories is true?