STOCKHOLM - Nobel prize season starts Monday with speculation rife that the peace prize could go to US whistleblower Edward Snowden, Pakistani girls' education campaigner Malala Yousafzai, or perhaps Pope Francis.
Last year, the physics prize awarded to Peter Higgs and Francois Englert for the Higgs particle was widely predicted, but Nobel pundits and bookmakers tend to focus more on who will get the prestigious peace and literature awards.
This year saw a record 278 peace prize nominations and, while the list is secret, some names have been revealed by their sponsors, including US whistleblower Edward Snowden, who was nominated by two Norwegian members of parliament.
Kristian Berg Harpviken, director of the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) is one of few experts to publish an annual shortlist of likely winners, even if he has yet to predict one accurately.
This year he ranked Snowden second place - behind Pope Francis - for exposing the extent of US electronic surveillance. However, he acknowledged that the former intelligence analyst would be a controversial choice as "many continue to see him as a traitor and a criminal".
Nonetheless the five members of the Nobel Committee could award Snowden - considered a fugitive by the US and living in exile in Russia - to "underline the independence of the Nobel Committee" from the Norwegian and US authorities, according to Nobeliana.com, a website run by leading Norwegian Nobel historians.
'Too controversial' - Others have rubbished the Snowden speculation.
"It would be really courageous to give it to Snowden," Robert Haardh, head of Stockholm-based Civil Rights Defenders told AFP.
"But judging from the past, I can't see that coming.
It's too controversial - and Scandinavians are too fond of the (United) States." Pope Francis - topping bookmaker Paddy Power's list with 9/4 odds - would be another controversial choice.
"The massively unjust global distribution of wealth is detrimental to peace... Pope Francis has brought attention to the fate of the poor, and the need for a new approach to development and economic redistribution," according to the PRIO director's prediction.
Critics point out that a papal Nobel would cause a similar outcry to US President Barack Obama's 2009 Nobel - less than a year into his presidency - which led to complaints that he was awarded for potential good deeds in the future rather than anything he had achieved.
Other favourites, also tipped last year, were 17-year-old Malala Yousafzai - the Pakistani activist for girls' right to education who was wounded by the Taliban in 2012 - and Congolese doctor Denis Mukwege.