I had a bit of a discussion via Twitter with Eric Weinstein yesterday, starting with his statement:
Ed Witten has no Nobel Prize. Now tell me again how this era’s physics just feels different because we are too close to it.
Basically, he appears to feel that Witten is sufficiently smart that he ought to have a Nobel. My feeling is that if you look at the list of Nobel laureates in physics, you won’t find any theorists who won before their theory had experimental confirmation. It’s not an official rule, but it seems to be well established practice.
My attempt at an analogy was the late John Wheeler, who is a Name in physics, but doesn’t have a Nobel because he, like Witten, worked on problems that did not connect with experimental observations. No data, no dynamite money.
It’s an interesting topic for debate, though, so let’s throw this totally non-controversial subject out as a poll:
(UPDATE: I was misinterpreting Eric’s position somewhat, mostly due to the constraints of Twitter. See the comments for a more accurate explanation.)