Jew Nobel Prize percentage

The Nobel Prize for Medicine, the Italian Rita Levi-Montalcini

Nobel Prizes have been awarded to over 900 individuals, of whom at least 20% were Jews, although the Jewish population comprises less than 0.2% of the world’s population.

Jews have been recipients of all six awards. The first Jewish recipient, Adolf von Baeyer, was awarded the prize in Chemistry in 1905. As of 2018, the most recent Jewish recipients were physics laureate Arthur Ashkin and economics laureate William Nordhaus.
Jewish laureates Elie Wiesel and Imre Kertész survived the extermination camps during the Shoah, while François Englert survived by being hidden in orphanages and children’s homes. Others, such as Walter Kohn, Otto Stern, Albert Einstein, Hans Krebs and Martin Karplus had to flee Nazi Germany to avoid persecution. Still others, including Rita Levi-Montalcini, Herbert Hauptman, Robert Furchgott, Arthur Kornberg, and Jerome Karle experienced significant antisemitism in their careers.


Various theories have been made to explain this phenomenon, which has received considerable attention.

The David vs Goliath Syndrome

As an oft-repressed group, the Jews have always had to try harder to come out on top. Obviously, the sheer numbers of our population aren’t going to sustain us. And despite the Israeli Kibbutznik (a member of Kibbutz) identity of the “new jews”, (tanned, strong, physically-gifted, rather than simply intellectual) the body strength is far from being jew’s strongest suit. So, as a whole, we are out to prove something.

Religion is about Knowledge

Across the board, Judaism stresses learning and analysis, not just rote memorization of doctrine. The stereotype of “two Jews, three opinions” is deeply ingrained in our culture. Real jews accept nothing at face value and yearn to know the “why” and “how” of every situation life throws our way, analysis is the key point, rather then other religions that value dogma.

Survival Mechanism

After the destruction of the Second Temple (the centreof Jewish religion and ritual), Jews needed to become literate to continue to study and practice Judaism. Literacy is what helped the religion survive and kept Jews from becoming assimilated into the surrounding cultures. Literacy also happens to be a skillnecessary for economic development, and this became an advantage for the Jewish population from the Middle Ages onward.

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 Jew wanted to be (equal, accepted, esteemed), and in what kind of places wanted to live (liberal and meritocratic societies).

Of 67 Americans who received the Nobel Prize between 1901 and 1965, 18 are Jews, a percentage therefore of 27% while the Americans of Israeli origin do not reach 3% of the total population of the United States. The cultural importance in the modern world of the small Jewish people “not only blows up any statistical regularity, but any attempt at sociological explanation. (…) The world has been able to try to exterminate them, but the leaven that lurks, the sap that feeds him is Jewish and Christian through them “(S. Quinzio). Already in 1843 the twenty-five-year-old Marx wrote about economics and cultures, but also about politics, of “a complete lordship of the Jewish tradition in the world”.

Growing up learning more than one language

Outside of Israel, observant Jews learn at least two unrelated languages as children: Hebrew, plus their country’s national language, which typically is an Indo-European language, not a Semitic language. It seems that when a child learns two completely unrelated languages, that extra effort gives the child an intellectual boost. This “unrelated languages boost” generalizes:
  • In the US, East Asians have a similar reputation for intellectual over-achievement. They often grow up learning Chinese, Japanese, or Korean at home, plus English on the street and at school.
  • Hungarian Jews were particularly over-represented in 19th & 20th century science. These were people who learned at least three unrelated languages as children, typically Magyar, Hebrew, and German, plus French and other Indo-European languages.
  • South Indians: In American high-tech, I’ve noticed a disproportionate number of South Indian IIT graduates (Indian Institutes of Technology). Well-educated South Indians typically grow up speaking a Dravidian language at home and on the street, and then are taught Hindi and English at school. Though Hindi & English are related, both being Indo-European, they are not related to the Dravidian languages: chiefly Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, and Tamil.
  • Ancient Persia: The Persian court decided to promote Aramaic, not Persian, as the Persian empire’s national language. Hence, educated people in the empire learned both languages. Persian was an Indo-European language, Aramaic was a Semitic language.
  • Islamic Golden Age: Roughly half of these great Muslim scientists were not Arabs, but were drawn by decree to Baghdad from the broad ethnic spread of the Islamic empire: mostly Persia, but also Turkey, North Africa, North India, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and elsewhere in Central Asia. Accordingly, most of these men spoke not only Arabic, but also their home languages, related to Persian, Turkish, Hindi, or Berber – all unrelated to Arabic.
  • The Basque country has long been the industrial center of Spain. Basque is the chief non-Indo-European language of Europe, after Hebrew.
  • In Singapore, SE Asia’s financial powerhouse, educated people commonly speak Chinese, English, and Malay: again, these are three unrelated languages.

Plainly, speaking two unrelated languages isn’t enough; presumably, a cultural emphasis on literacy & education is needed, too, in order for a childhood speaker of multiple unrelated languages to grow up as a high achiever.

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