The 2009 Nobel Prize winners for the science categories were revealed this week, and the United States were well represented. I read a couple of articles praising the National Institutes for Health (NIH) on its enduring commitment to funding basic research, and I began to wonder how much of the research that has won Nobel Prize recognition in the past was actually supported by American funding agencies, like NIH and the National Science Foundation (NSF), a.k.a the US government? It would appear the answer is: The large majority!
With a desire for procrastination, and a nerdy love of statistics, I compiled the bar graph below, which shows the number of individual Nobel laureates by country, and you can see that the US blows everyone else out of the water.
There are a few caveats to this figure. The data are from Wikipedia’s list of Nobel laureates by country, which was the most up to date listing I could find; therefore, I did not go through the list of winners myself. Additionally, the awardees are listed by the nation they are “associated with,” and many laureates are listed under more than one country. For instance, Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, the 2009 c0-winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, is listed under India, the UK and the US. Born in India, Dr.Ramakrishnan obtained the majority of his degrees and training in the US, where he also gained citizenship. It sounds like the majority of the work he is being recognized for was also conducted in the US, although now Dr.Ramakrishnan is a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, England. So the values represented in this figure are a little inflated because the definition of “nationality” is a bit broad. Without a doubt there has been a massive contribution by the American scientific community and science funding to our overall understanding of the natural world. U S A! U S A!
I leave you with a beautiful quote about the nature of modern scientific collaboration:
We stand on the shoulders of giants, publish our results, share our results, people pick them up, improve them, and shove them out into the larger body of knowledge.
Thomas Lane, president of the American Chemical Society.