The graphic above, via Jon Bruner of Forbes, reflects the enormous American contribution to Arts & Sciences over the past century.

What is intriguing is not just that the US has won so many prizes, but that the a third of American Nobels have gone to immigrants to the US:

“The United States has won more Nobel prizes for physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, and economics since World War II than any other country, by a wide margin (it has been less dominant in literature and peace, two awards that are much more broadly distributed among nations). At least one American has won a prize each year since 1935 (excluding the years 1940 through 1942, when no prizes were given out). And the United States became dominant after a very slow start: no American won a science prize in the first six years of the prize’s existence.”

This is important in many ways:

1. The US attracts many of the wold’s best & brightest students and future Technology and Scientific leaders;

2. Their work (eventually) leads to breakthroughs that generate tremendous economic value, creating jobs and new industries;

3. That success in turn attracts the next generation of intellectual stars, creating a virtuous circle.

4. Anything that puts this cycle at risk is a long term threat to the economic health of the US.

Which raises a few obvious questions: What is the biggest threat to this virtuous, self-reinforcing system? What is it that could derail this important component to the American engine of prosperity? And, what can we do to fix that?

Hat tip: Flowing Data



Is the balance of scientific power shifting? (January 16th, 2004)

Losing Our Intellectual Edge (December 22nd, 2004)

Category: Philosophy, Research, Science, Technology

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

20 Responses to “Nobel Laureates and Economic Prosperity”

  1. V says:

    Police state behaviour and things that work to the detriment of the words ‘land of the free’.

  2. rktbrkr says:

    Grade inflation…most years there are multiple science winners

    brilliant third worlders come to countries where they can get support for their advanced work.

    US education and (medical care), aces and spaces.

  3. lunartop says:

    More importantly what detriment have all those “Nobel” prize winning economists caused the US?

  4. I was wondering where Israel was on that chart but then I recall that I read it was a disproportionate number of Jews that won the prize and not necessarily and large number of Israeli citizens. I assume that many of those American Nobel immigrants were also Jewish

    Went and looked up the data:

    At least 181 Jews and people of half- or three-quarters-Jewish ancestry have been awarded the Nobel Prize, accounting for 22% of all individual recipients worldwide between 1901 and 2010, and constituting 36% of all US recipients during the same period. In the research fields of Chemistry, Economics, Physics, and Physiology/Medicine, the corresponding world and US percentages are 26% and 39%, respectively. Among women laureates in the four research fields, the Jewish percentages (world and US) are 38% and 50%, respectively. Of organizations awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, 25% were founded principally by Jews or by people of half-Jewish descent. (Jews currently make up approximately 0.2% of the world’s population and 2% of the US population.)

    Chemistry (31 prize winners, 20% of world total, 27% of US total)

    Economics (28 prize winners, 42% of world total, 55% of US total)

    Literature (13 prize winners, 12% of world total, 27% of US total)

    Peace (9 prize winners, 9% of world total, 10% of US total)4

    Physics (47 prize winners, 25% of world total, 36% of US total)

    Physiology or Medicine (53 prize winners, 27% of world total, 40% of US total)


    God’s prophecy and the Jews being a blessing to the world has been fulfilled in spades

  5. SP: That should read:

    God’s prophecy about the Jews being a blessing to the world has been fulfilled in spades

    *just woke up

  6. ArtE says:

    9-11/anti-foreigner bias is creating situation where less engineers and less entrepreneurs are grown or stay here in the US. Make it so the future economic engines, created by foreign students who stay here legally, happen on our shores. Our deep and paralyzing fear of foreigners within Government and Media makes them not come (visa hassles or negative word of mouth) or not want to stay after end of education.

  7. jnutley says:

    Nobel prizes are the cream on top of the “publish or perish” system driving competition for grants and research fellowships. If I were an inimical force, what would I do to undermine it?

    1) Slash the money available for grants and fellowships, so that fewer scientists could compete (in the U.S.) in the first place.

    2) Tempt people away from the from science as a career by offering more lucrative opportunities in other fields (like F.I.R.E).

    3) Make the pursuit of science as a career unlivable for the graduate students which are the feed stock to the system. No hope of a monetary living on this path, and high likelihood of being kicked out or left without a position at all, rather than a likely path to middle class prosperity. (I admit this one is weak, because people will live in denial and keep reaching for glory, even in the sciences, but it supports the viability of tactic number 2 listed above)

    4) Provide a superior location for individuals wishing to achieve scientific glory, so that they immigrate there, rather than to the U.S.

    – — –

    In my opinion, the first three of these four are already in place. The most likely candidate for item 4 is the E.U. and the CERN particle accelerator indicates that at least some Europeans are pursuing this result. So:

    a) If the E.U. is represented as a single entity in the chart above, what does the new chart look like?

    b) How long is the lead time for a generic “Nobel win”? Is it possible that our system is already broken but we’re enjoying the result of previous but no longer extant good practices?

    c) To what degree will “momentum” cancel out “friction”? It may be that because the U.S. wins so many Nobels, it will continue to win a large number of Nobels. Changing the behavior of the system may require a much larger negative input than has to date been applied, or absent that, even the broken system may barrel on for years without noticeably slowing, simply because the U.S. Labs and Universities are continuing to play the game.

    d) Just because we do it poorly does not correlate to someone else in the world doing it better. Are there dis-incentives in other regions of the Earth that stack the deck for the U.S.?

  8. Greg0658 says:

    HtCMSI’s comment is in my forte of quip/rebuttal:
    I don’t believe the Jewish people have a lock on IQ genes .. more a tribalism connectedness with a dose of focus on proper food consumption .. oh that drive to stay alive from assailants .. a good foundation of teachings & club power

  9. louiswi says:

    It is unfortunate the article chooses to lump the Nobel Peace Prize in with the other prizes. The Peace prize is a product of Norway and is highly political as well as symbolic. The Swedish Nobel Prizes have fairly particular protocols particularly in the area of science. This disctinction needs to be made and understood.
    This situation resulted from Nobel being a citizen of the combined countries of Norway and Sweden. When the two countries later “divorced”, the prizes went the separate ways as they exist today.

  10. theexpertisin says:

    Agree with louiswi.

    The Nobel Peace Prize via Norway is a figment of politically correct imagination.

  11. wunsacon says:

    >> God’s prophecy about the Jews being a blessing to the world has been fulfilled in spades

    “god” says “you’re the greatest!” to a lot of people. He’s a stopped clock and was bound to get it right sometime.

    (By the way, if you’re subscribing to His market timing newsletter, you’re wasting your money. Might I instead recommend the Gloom, Boom & Eternal Doom Report?)

  12. wunsacon says:

    Don’t see the point of comparing countries with much different population sizes. “Per capita” seems more appropriate.

  13. pintelho says:

    One solution is of course reform the stupid immigration system…free marketers should agree that importing brains is a good thing who cares what country they are from they should come here and then STAY here after getting their very expensive higher education (compared to rest of world prices for education).

    My cousin came here on a student visa to study Marine Biology. Her thesis was based on shark/fish scales and their impact on motion/movement efficiency…a topic that would/should excite naval engineers as her studies should produce more efficient aquatic vessels.

    She graduated and immediately got shipped back to Europe and is working in Belgium because they wouldn’t allow her to extend her stay here and work for our businesses. No Visa extension, no green card offer…nothing.

    Our immigration system is stupidly awful and we should be growing our economy by increasing population size and immigration is about the easiest way of doing that.

  14. louiswi says:

    “how the common man sees it”:
    I don’t think we need the Nobel Prize list to show just how smart the Jewish people are. They afterall wrote a book claiming God told them they were special and then sold the notion to the world. They have been extraordinairily successful with that scheme so yes they have been and are very smart. ( You didn’t think God wrote a book, did you?)

  15. Jon Bruner says:

    @jnutley has written a useful breakdown of factors that can affect a country’s scientific leadership. Several of these combined amount to a pretty strong network effect: bright foreigners come to the U.S. because the most important scientists are here and they want to study with them. The most important scientists (i.e., the people represented on my graphic) are here because they were attracted by and/or are retained by the presence of other leaders, as well as by a well-formed and well-funded system of institutions that support their research. These institutions enjoy excellent funding because they’re already world leaders in what they do.

    In a way, these network effects could sustain American scientific leadership for a long time. But once we allow them to be undermined by efforts in other countries, they’ll be extremely difficult to rebuild, and any diminution in American science will be self-reinforcing.

  16. Marc P says:

    @Common Man: Thanks for your post. The ethnic or religious makeup of the Nobel winners is a matter of fact. However, your implication that winning is caused by ethnicity or religion is a matter of bigotry. From under what rock did you just crawl?

    @jnutley: Bravo, and I agree with @pintelho that the U.S. immigration system should be added to your list. I know many tech CEOs, and all of them would put availability of talent at the top of their list of managerial issues. If top researchers cannot come to the U.S., they’ll go somewhere else. That is obvious to all except those in Congress.

    @JonBruner: The network effect would make a good cover story for your magazine.

  17. rd says:

    North America is a unique continent (Australia/New Zealand similar) that has been built out of recent immigrants with pride in being a melding pot. In general, we should be encouraging immigration, especially educated immigrants. It takes a lot of character to voluntarily decide to move to another country/continent, leaving your family and past behind. These types of people provide a constant infusion of desire and hard work.

    Everytime, we hand out an advanced degree diploma, especially in the sicences and engineering, to someone from another country, there should be a permanent resident visa stapled to it. The US stripped much of the rest of the world’s talent through immigration in the first half of the last century. Instead, we now send them back to their homeland so we can outsource a job to them.

    Think about the character of a person who is willing to cross deserts and rivers to sneak into the US as an illegal immigrant. and then work multiple jobs to make enough money to survive. It is likely that their native-born kids and grand-kids will end up being leaders in the country in the future.

    Historically, the people whose forefathers arrived two or more generations ago always bad-mouth the current generation of immigrants coming from a different place. The complaints are generally the same, but the long-term positive contribution of the immigrants is also generally the same.

  18. louiswi says:

    RD nails the day!!!

  19. ToNYC says:

    “God’s prophecy and the Jews being a blessing to the world has been fulfilled in spades”

    Is this a religious space? Is Jews another species or are we talking Location, Location, Location of citizens in this USA without reference to personal connections with the divine.
    Immigration keeps the USA real.

  20. DeDude says:

    The job as a university professor has become increasingly less desirable. It used to be that the very best of the best wanted to become university professors; not any more. This will slowly reduce the quality of the teaching and graduate training programs and eventually US will no longer be able to attract the best students from all over the world.