This year the United States was shutout in Physics, Medicine, Peace, and Literature and only received a piece of the Prize in Chemistry and Economics. I can almost hear the negative outcry of the forecasters of America’s decline already—the United States is going down the tubes and this is just another example of its decline.
Baloney! How silly does it get? First of all, the Nobel Prize is a very poor indicator of the direction that any country is moving. Take China, India, and Brazil for example. How many Nobel’s did the natural born citizens of those countries receive this year? One? Yes, one—and that one was to a Chinese citizen who is currently spending his time in jail. Yet, is anyone about to say that China, India, and Brazil are in decline or are not contributing to the betterment of mankind? I hardly think so.
Even if the Nobel did imply direction, after all the purpose of the award is to recognise those individuals who have in some way conferred by their thoughts or actions the greatest benefit to mankind, recent statistics show that the U.S. continues to do its part. Let’s look at Exhibit 1 which shows the count of Nobel’s for U.S. natural born citizens against the total Nobel’s over the last four decades—in all the categories—and see what that tells us.
Count of U.S. Natural Born Citizens
Who Have Won Nobel Prizes
in Last Four Decades**
Percentage Breakdown for U.S. Recipients
* First number represents U.S. Nobel Recipients (Number in parenthesis represents total Nobel recipients)
If you look at the first three hard science categories (i.e., physics, chemistry, medicine) either together or separately, Exhibit 1 shows that the U.S. has received on average a little more than 40% of the awards in these categories conferred by the Nobel committee over the last 40 years. Trying to identify a moving trend of those same three categories by decade is somewhat difficult. In other words, 40 plus per cent seems to be a somewhat steady benchmark for the U.S. in the sciences—not bad for a country in decline.
Let’s consider the area of great Literature; nothing new to report there. Plain and simple, U.S. born citizens never have been known for writing great literature—at least from a Nobel committee viewpoint. In the last 40 years, only one U.S. born citizen has received a Nobel Prize for his or her literary mind. And that is Toni Morrison. Taking nothing away from Ms. Morrison, but being shutout again this year for the Nobel literature category hardly reflects a trend. It’s simply par for the course.
In the area of Peace? Again, it is hard to see a U.S. decline based upon the numbers. Three of the five peace awards awarded to U.S. natural born citizens in the last 40 years have been conferred in the most recent decade. And who were those three U.S. natural born citizens? Barack Obama (2009); Albert Gore, Jr. (2007); and Jimmy Carter (2002). Need I say anything more?
Maybe yes, because this brings up another point—not that there is a left wing bias to the Nobel Peace Prize, but Exhibit 1 only provides the numbers for “natural born” citizens of the United States; it does not include “naturalized” U.S. citizens, such as Henry Kissinger, whose more right wing policies won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for his stellar work in bringing peace to Vietnam. Add “naturalized” U.S. citizens to the table and the U.S. contribution to the betterment of mankind only grows in magnitude.
A group of elite scientists claim that the Nobel Prize is outdated and does not include (or is biased against) newly developing scientific areas such as “environmental science” and “public health science”. This group of scientists have written a letter to the Nobel committee asking them to broaden their scope, which provides a good lead in for the last category in Exhibit 1—the dismal, softer science of Economics.
What is now commonly referred to as the Nobel Prize in Economics was not among the original awards conceived by Alfred Nobel, but was created in 1968 by the Swedish Central Bank on the bank’s 300th birthday in memory of Nobel. Since its inception, 67 economists have been recognised for their accomplishments by the Nobel Prize (2 in 1969 and the 3 in 2010 that were awarded yesterday are not reflected in Exhibit 1). More than half (36) of those 67 economists were natural born citizens of the United States. In fact, 75% of the economic awards in the last decade were awarded to U.S. citizens.
Now I don’t know about the reader, but this tells me more about using Nobel Prizes as a measurement of a country’s contribution to mankind than anything else. Looking at the numbers from Exhibit 1, is there any wonder that the U.S.’s financial systems are in such a mess and no one can figure out what this country needs to do to fix the situation?
Considering the fact that if you put three economists in a room, you get four different answers—think what it is like to have 36 esteemed Nobel Economic Laureates at your disposal. In fact, I can only hope for the United States that its share of Economic awards begins to decline. Enough already—I say it’s time we start spreading the wealth.
In conclusion, I agree with the group of disenchanted scientists mentioned above that if the Nobel Prize is going to be viewed as a measurement of benefit-added to mankind, then new categories need to be added. So my recommendation is to have Bill Gates and Warren Buffet set up as part of Microsoft’s 40th anniversary (2015) an endowment fund for a Nobel Prize in Business Invention.
And I believe I have the perfect first nominee for such an award—Albert Gore, Jr. for inventing the internet. After all, hasn’t the internet brought access of the entire world’s knowledge to the fingertips of everyone on the globe? Now what could be better for mankind than that?
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