Monday, October 14, 2013

Nobel Prizes across countries

Note to Xinhua: China, with 1.3 billion people, has produced a grand total of nine winners in its entire history. Of those nine, seven live abroad, including three in the U.S. Another, Liu Xiaobo, sits in a Chinese prison. ...

Russia, with a population of 142 million, has three living Nobel laureates, or one for every 47 million. So much for the land of Pasternak and Sakharov.

A more interesting case is Israel. The Jewish state should be a Nobel powerhouse, given that Jews, 0.2% of the world's population, have won 20% of all Nobels, including six prizes this year alone. But while Israel can claim nine living laureates, three of them live and teach mainly in the U.S. ...

Then there is Europe: Half a billion people with a comparatively minuscule Nobel representation. France has, by my count, just 10 living laureates. Germany does better, with nearly 30, although at least nine of them (including Henry Kissinger, physicist Arno Penzias, and this year's medicine winner, Thomas S├╝dhof), have long lived in the U.S. Britain does about the same as Germany.

Why is Europe such a Nobel laggard? In hindsight, evicting and killing most of its Jewish population was perhaps not the best idea...

A more contemporary answer is the pervasive mediocrity of higher education throughout the EU. ...

Which brings us to the Nobel superpower. Since 2000, Americans have won 21 of the 37 physics prizes, 18 of the 33 medicine prizes, 22 of the 33 chemistry prizes and an astonishing 27 of the 30 economics prizes. ...

The secret of America's Nobel sauce isn't hard to understand: an immigration culture that welcomed everyone from Ronald Coase (from the U.K.) to Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (from India) to Martin Kaplus (from Nazi-era Austria) to Elizabeth Blackburn (from Australia). A mostly private, highly competitive, lavishly endowed university system, juiced by federal funding for fundamental research. A culture of individualism and an ingrained respect for against-the-grain thinking.
--Bret Stephens, WSJ, on America the beautiful