from the December 2004 issue

One-of-five Nobel Prize Laureates are Jewish

In the 20th century, Jews, more than any other minority, ethnic or cultural, have been recipients of the Nobel Prize, with almost one-fifth of all Nobel laureates being Jewish. Of the total Israel has six Nobel laureates.

In December 1902, the first Nobel Prize was awarded in Stockholm to Wilhelm Roentgen, the discoverer of X-rays. Alfred Nobel, 1833-1996, a Swedish industrialist and inventor of dynamite, bequeathed a $9 million endowment to fund prizes of $40,000 in 1901. Today the prize has grown to $1 million, to those individuals who have made the most important contributions in five areas. The sixth, "economic sciences," was added in 1969.

Nobel could hardly have imagined the almost mythic status that would accrue to the laureates. From the start "The Prize" (as it was sensationalized in Irving Wallace's 1960 novel) became one of the most sought-after awards in the world, and eventually the yardstick against which other prizes and recognition were to be measured.

A total of nearly 700 individuals and 20 organizations have been Nobel recipients, including two who refused the prize (Leo Tolstoy in 1902 and Jean-Paul Sartre in 1964.) Thirty women have won Nobels. The United States has about one-third of all winners. Also remarkable is the fact that 14 percent of all the laureates in a 100-year span have been Californians, most of them affiliated with one or more of the world-class higher education and research institutions in that state.

Jewish names appear 127 times on the list, about 18 percent of the total. This is an astonishing percentage for a group of people who add up to 1/24th of 1 percent of the world's population. But this positive disproportion is echoed even further in the over-representation of Jews, compared to the general population, in such fields as the physical and social sciences, and in literature. An examination of the large professional communities from which Nobel laureates are selected would reveal an even more dominant disproportion. As an example, it is estimated that about one-third of the faculty at Harvard Medical School is Jewish.

The figure for the total number of Jewish nobel Prize winners varies slightly, depending on the strictness of the "Who's a Jew?" definition. But the figure cited most frequently is 161, or 22 percent of Nobel Prizes in all categories awarded between 1901-2003. With the 2004 additions, the total stands at 166.

Reprinted from the Israel High-Tech & Investment Report December 2004

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