Why Jews win so many Nobel prizes

Forget the genius genes or bookish culture hocus pocus. Jewish achievement in the sciences is a modern phenomenon, but the passions that drove it are now ebbing away.

Haaretz, By Noah Efron

Camp Young Judea, a Zionist sleepaway camp where I passed a bit of my youth, tweeted this just after this year’s Nobel Prize winners were announced, and it got me thinking: Did you know… Of the 8 individuals who have won Nobel Prizes this year, 6 are Jewish, 2 are Israeli, and 1 is a Holocaust survivor!

I did know, of course, and so did everyone else.

In the weeks following the announcement, I read hundreds of tweets and dozens of posts about Jews’ banner performance in Stockholm; I’ve seen it lead the TV news on all three Israeli stations that carry the news, gotten emails about it from enthusiastic relatives and overheard discussions about it in the faculty cafeteria.
While most reactions were triumphalist (“Super Jews and Our Incredible Nobel Prize Statistics,” ran one headline), some were pensive. Here in Israel, the fact that two chemistry laureates had abandoned the Jewish State when they realized it held no jobs for them, tinctured our national pride with self-censure.

Elsewhere, rabbis and pundits tried to puzzle out what it is about Jews that make them so super at science.

Broadly, two sorts of theories have been floated. One is that Jews have primo genes. Charles Murray, the Enterprise Institute scholar and co-author of The Bell Curve, set out the case for this a few years ago in an essay in Commentary called “Jewish Genius,” writing bluntly that “something in the genes explains elevated Jewish IQ.” Another theory is that Jews love hitting the books, as Israeli economics laureate Robert Aumann told the army radio station Galei Tzahal: Jewish homes have overflowing bookshelves. Throughout the generations we have given great honor to this intellectual pursuit.

There are good reasons to doubt both sorts of theories. For one thing, Jewish excellence in science is a new thing. When the great Jewish folklorist Joseph Jacobs set out in 1886 to compare the talents of Jews with the talents of other Westerners, he found their performance mediocre in every science save medicine. In the first decades of the 20th century, Princeton psychologist Carl Brigham tested the intelligence of Jews in America, and concluded they “had an average intelligence below those from all other countries except Poland and Italy.” Jewish excellence in science is a phenomenon that flowered in the decades before and, especially, after the Second World War; it is too recent a phenomenon to be explained by natural selection, or even by putative ancient cultural traditions.

The real explanation of Jewish success in science lies elsewhere. The 20th century began with massive migrations of Jews, to the United States, to the cities of Russia (and then the Soviet Union), and to Palestine. In each of these new lands, Jews turned to science in great numbers because it promised a way to transcend the old world orders that had for so long excluded most Jews from power, wealth and society. Science, based as it is on values of universality, impartiality and meritocracy, appealed powerfully for Jews seeking to succeed in their new homes. It is not so much what Jews were (smart, bookish) that explains their success in science, as what we wanted to be (equal, accepted, esteemed), and in what sorts of places we wanted to live (liberal and meritocratic societies).

But I’m not the Grinch. I would have nothing against devoting a week each year to tweeting, blogging and chatting about how Jews rule when it comes to Nobel Prizes, and totally rock as scientists, were it not for the fact that our self-congratulation keeps us from seeing something that matters. Nobel Prizes are a lagging indicator. Given years after the achievements they celebrate, often to long-retired scientists, they reflect a state of affairs that existed 30, 40, and sometimes 50 years ago. They are a browning snapshot of bygone days.

What bugs me about attributing the remarkable prominence of Jews among Nobel laureates to genes or enduring cultural traditions is that doing so suggests that Jewish success in science will inevitably continue as a matter of course. Most likely it won’t. The percentages of Jews among new American Ph.D.s in the sciences has declined greatly over the past generation. In Israel, spending on higher education has continued to decline during most of the same period; to many of the growing numbers in Israel who embrace religion, the appeal of science has nearly vanished. The passions that drew Jews to sciences in such great numbers have dissipated.

Maybe this was inevitable, maybe not. Either way, there is no good reason to expect that the remarkable contributions of Jews to science will continue for generations to come. Rather than celebrating the late ripening fruit of our parents’ and grandparents’ toil, each Nobel Prize is a chance to ponder whether we oughtn’t be planting afresh the too-often neglected fields they bequeathed us.



23 replies

  1. The reason so many Jews win the Nobel Prize is simple: they are following God’s instructions in the Bible.

    In the Bible God tells the human race to be curious, to investigate what He created – to learn, to discover. They have done just that.

    Further, if we look at the countries and cultures of the world we see that those countries that have had the Bible as the basis for their morality have been the most successful. The countries of Northern Europe, the US, & Canada, for example, are heavily Protestant – they follow God’s instructions as outlined in the Bible and have reaped the benefits God said would happen.

    Other countries, such as those of Southern Europe and South America, which are primarily Catholic have had some success, but not as much as the Protestant countries. This is because Catholics have not followed God’s instructions as closely.

    The remaining countries follow other religions, primarily Islam and Buddhism. These countries have historically had less success because the gods they are following are false.

    One might claim that countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are very wealthy. But that wealth is only in the hands of a few. The majority of people in those countries are very poor.

    The facts are very clear: the more closely a country embraces the Bible – the word of the true God – the more they will prosper in life. This is also true for individuals.

    • Are you mad? The countries you are talking about are Secular and do not follow any particular religion and they certainly do not follow the bible your evangelicals are odd attempting to push your wacky religion using false information.

    • What the hell did I just read ? Jews are not followers of the bible. There’s so much bs in this text.. hahahaha, you are delusional af

      • “Jews are not followers of the bible.” Are you kidding? The Bible was written by Jews. The Bible contains 66 books divided into the Old Testament and the New Testament. “The Old Testament is the first part of Christian Bibles, based primarily upon the Hebrew Bible, a collection of ancient religious writings by the Israelites believed by most Christians and religious Jews to be the sacred Word of God. The second part of the Christian Bible is the New Testament.” Your post is insulting and IGNORANT.

    • Or the fact that Muslims had their resources stolen from them causing great problems by the Christian west.

      Jewish people meanwhile are losing their edge anyway as the Christians will eventually turn on them

  2. Avni,keep your “ignorant” racist thoughts to yourself.Don’t be an envious hater! Time spent educating oneself is never wasted also we practicing Muslims create a balance, worshipping Allah (God Almighty)spending precious time with family and friends, education etc… “Radical extremist & suicide bombers are Not Muslims” they can’t call themselves Muslims as their evil actions go against everything Islam stands for “Peace”.✌✌✌✌✌✌✌✌✌✌

  3. This essay by a jew shows that jews are a self-critical people, whereas muslims are in high competition with one another about self-deceiving self-congratulations and fascistic self-glorifications.

    • fascism comes from Christianity it has nothing to do with Islam and Muslims are also self-criticising while you are so blind you want to sit and whine about one article.

      there are many jews who have a chip on their shoulder and boast about their Nobel prizes so why not look at that rather than being so smug

  4. The intelligence is in the genes of jews as they were God chosen people. According to Bible, Muslims are descendants of Ismail, …

  5. jews r v v v intelligent & inventive in massacre in killing as all witnessing from Palestine to all planets.they r the cursed & fear the united power of the MUSLIM WORLD thats why they r stampping MUSLIMS as terrrrrorrrists and mosad is deviding them .Final winner will b the UNITED MUSLIM FRONT .

  6. Jews get so many noble prizes because they make a great effort in different fields of sciences. They study and have a scholarly discourse. Even as a lot of noble prize winners are Jews, we will see that they are not religious zealots. And I think that is more important. A great majority of scientists are not consumed by religion. They are objective people and have the ability to look at things objectively without any preformed ideas rooted in their religious practices.
    This is why Muslims are not seen in the long line of scientists. Muslims claim that the Dajjal is blind in his right eye (eye of religion) but they are blind in their left eye (the eye of this world) Whereas the Quran says that the middle way is the best.
    So once Muslims can see the world as it is and not as they wish it to be, they may learn knowledge and excel in science.

  7. If we believe Avni, shouldn’t we also believe that all the Christians were and are tyrant because at one time they launched Crusades and massacred millions of Muslims under the holy decree of many popes? No , that is not true. Avni! You are living in a small world. Come out of your shell. That was BTW. Let us address the real question.
    As a proud and practicing muslim, I have greatest regards for Judaism and Christianity, as all three are the progression of Abrahamic thought process. The temporal and spatial diaspora of the Jews in Europe contributed to their intellect. The Jews enjoyed great fraternity and peace with their brethren Muslims in Spain and those 800 years was their golden era. The Islamic civilisation was also at its peak. Great scholarly works in all the fields were attained by the Jews in Spain and an intellectual substrate was set. When Muslims and Jews were expelled from Spain , the Jews spread into Europe. That was the time of renaissance . Those Jews who were groomed by Muslim Spain were just poised to absorb the new vistas of knowledge.
    Also take into consideration the treatment of Jews by the Europeans. Hitler was just the peak of the hatred for Jews. The Jews were deprived of the means of productivity such as land, houses, farms, shops, livestock. How would they earn their livelihood?
    Only by thinking, studying and researching. I am not surprised at the outcome of intellectuals like Frederick Engels, Karl Marks, Sigmund Freud Neil Bohr and Albert Einstein from the human stock which was groomed by Muslim Spain

  8. Nobel Prizes- Jews Vs Muslims

    “The following are true facts and verified statistics:

    The Global Islamic population is approximately 1,200,000,000, or 20% of the world population.
    They received the following Nobel Prizes:

    1988 – Najib Mahfooz.

    1978 – Mohamed Anwar El-Sadat
    1994 – Yaser Arafat

    1990 – Elias James Corey
    1999 – Ahmed Zewail

    1960 – Peter Brian Medawar
    1998 – Ferid Mourad

    The Global Jewish population is aproximately 14,000,000 or about 0.02% of the world population.
    They received the following Nobel Prizes:

    1910 – Paul Heyse
    1927 – Henri Bergson
    1958 – Boris Pasternak
    1966 – Shmuel Yosef Agnon
    1966 – Nelly Sachs
    1976 – Saul Bellow
    1978 – Isaac Bashevis Singer
    1981 – Elias Canetti
    1987 – Joseph Brodsky
    1991 – Nadine Gordimer World

    1911 – Alfred Fried
    1911 – Tobias Michael Carel Asser
    1968 – Rene Cassin
    1973 – Henry Kissinger
    1978 – Menachem Begin
    1986 – Elie Wiesel
    1994 – Shimon Peres
    1994 – Yitzhak Rabin

    1905 – Adolph Von Baeyer
    1906 – Henri Moissan
    1910 – Otto Wallach
    1915 – Richard Willstaetter
    1918 – Fritz Haber
    1943 – George Charles de Hevesy
    1961 – Melvin Calvin
    1962 – Max Ferdinand Perutz
    1972 – William Howard Stein
    1977 – Ilya Prigogine
    1979 – Herbert Charle s Brown
    1980 – Paul Berg
    1980 – Walter Gilbert
    1981 – Roald Hoffmann
    1982 – Aaron Klug
    1985 – Albert A. Hauptman
    1985 – Jerome Karle
    1986 – Dudley R. Herschbach
    1988 – Robert Huber
    1989 – Sidney Altman
    1992 – Rudolph Marcus
    2000 – Alan J. Heeger
    2004 – Aaron Ciechanover
    2004 – Avram Hershko

    1970 – Paul Anthony Samuelson
    1971 – Simon Kuznets
    1972 – Kenneth Joseph Arrow
    1975 – Leonid Kantorovich
    1976 -! Milton Friedman
    1978 – Herbert A. Simon
    1980 – Lawrence Robert Klein
    1985 – Franco Modigliani
    1987 – Robert M. Solow
    1990 – Harry Markowitz
    1990 – Merton Miller
    1992 – Gary Becker
    1993 – Robert Fogel

    1908 – Elie Metchnikoff
    1908 – Paul Erlich
    1914 – Robert Barany
    1922 – Otto Meyerhof
    1930 – Karl Landsteiner
    1931 – Otto Warburg
    1936 – Otto Loewi
    1944 – Joseph Erlanger
    1944 – Herbert Spencer Gasser
    1945 – Ernst Boris Chain
    1946 – Hermann Joseph Muller
    1950 – Tadeus Reichstein
    1952 – Selman Abraham Waksman
    1953 – Hans Krebs
    1953 – Fritz Albert Lipmann
    1958 – Joshua Lederberg
    1959 – Arthur Kornberg
    1964 – Konrad Bloch
    1965 – Francois Jacob
    1965 – Andre Lwoff
    1967 – George Wald
    1968 – Marshall W. Nirenberg
    1969 – Salvador Luria
    1970 – Julius Axelrod
    1970 – Sir Bernard Katz
    1972 – Gerald Maurice Edelman
    1975 – Howard Martin Temin
    1976 – Baruch S. Blumberg
    1977 – Roselyn Sussman Yalow
    1978 – Daniel Nathans
    1980 – Baruj Benacerraf
    1984 – Cesar Milstein
    1985 – Michael Stuart Brown
    1985 – Joseph L. Goldstein
    1986 – Stanley Cohen [& Rita Levi-Montalcini]
    1988 – Gertrude Elion
    1989 – Harold Varmus
    1991 – Erwin Neher
    1991 – Bert Sakmann
    1993 – Richard J. Roberts
    1993 – Phillip Sharp
    1994 – Alfred Gilman
    1995 – Edward B. Lewis

    1907 – Albert Abraham Michelson
    1908 – Gabriel Lippmann
    1921 – Albert Einstein
    1922 – Niels Bohr
    1925 – James Franck
    1925 – Gustav Hertz
    1943 – Gustav Stern
    1944 – Isidor Issac Rabi
    1952 – Felix Bloch
    1954 – Max Born
    1958 – Igor Tamm
    1959 – Emilio Segre
    1960 – Donald A. Glaser
    1961 – Robert Hofstadter
    1962 – Lev Davidovich Landau
    1965 – Richard Phillips Feynman
    1965 – Julian Schwinger
    1969 – Murray Gell-Mann
    1971 – Dennis Gabor
    1973 – Brian David Josephson
    1975 – Benjamin Mottleson
    1976 – Burton Richter
    1978 – Arno Allan Penzias
    1978 – Peter L Kapitza
    1979 – Stephen Weinberg
    1979 – Sheldon Glashow
    1988 – Leon Lederman
    1988 – Melvin Schwartz
    1988 – Jack Steinberger
    1990 – Jerome Friedman
    1995 – Martin Perl

    The Jews are not demonstrating with their dead on the streets, yelling and chanting and asking for revenge, the Jews are not promoting brain washing the children in military training camps, teaching them how to blow themselves up and cause maximum deaths of Jews and other non Muslims. The Jews don’t highjack planes, nor kill athletes at the Olympics, the Jews don’t traffic slaves, nor have leaders calling for Jihad and death to all the Infidels.
    The Jews don’t have the economical strength of the Petroleum, nor the possibilities to force the world’s media to see “their side” of the question. Perhaps if the world’s Muslims could invest more in normal education and less in blaming the Jews for all their problems, we could all live in a better world.”


    • You omitted Dr. Abdus Salam for the Nobel Prize in Physics. – but, yes, for the rest of your article you are correct. Indeed the Jewish people are great in science etc. That is why it is even more surprising that they are so absolutely incapable to have any feelings for peace and security for their own occupied peoples and are totally incapable to make peace.

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