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Jewish Nobel Laureates (wikipedia.org)
48 points by pathikrit on Oct 12, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 76 comments

While this is an interesting statistic, it can be interpreted in many ways, not all of which are meaningful.

Statistically, more men have won Nobel prizes than women (by a large margin). Most Nobel laureates are Caucasian. Most are from the western hemisphere. Other than gender, it may be interpreted to mean that if a group which makes a small fraction of the total world population, they must be better/smarter.

It's a fallacious argument of course, since there can be many other factors at play here. How much of it is because these groups have access to more funds, that most of them are based in the United States which has better and more well-funded universities? What about social factors that have nothing to do with race/religion?

Along these lines, I could submit a link about how Indians who make up a tiny fraction of the American population are so much more successful than $POPULATION [1], but it's a meaningless statistic to have, other than for some misplaced pride.

1. http://www.forbes.com/2009/02/24/bobby-jindal-indian-america...

> Statistically, more men have won Nobel prizes than women (by a large margin). Most Nobel laureates are Caucasian. Most are from the western hemisphere. Other than gender, it may be interpreted to mean that if a group which makes a small fraction of the total world population, they must be better/smarter.

Consider your magnitudes though.

For example, men win

0.961/0.5 = 1.9

times the Nobel Prizes you would expect based on representation alone, whereas Jews win

0.202/0.002 = 101

times the Nobel Prizes you would expect based on representation alone.

Wouldn't percentage of Jews in the Western world be a better stat, given that's more or less the population from which Nobel prize winners are selected?

Agreed. I'm not sure why this belongs on HN. It seems very divisive and out of place in the context of the HN community. This list is very short in comparison: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_black_Nobel_Laureates . Should we be promoting all of the negative connotations associated with that when compared to the Jewish list?

Thanks. I had submitted that link to the "Black Nobel Laureates" earlier and let it sit for 30 minutes after no upvotes, then deleted it. Made it appear as if this thread was pride-based upvoting that de-evolved into "Jews have super human intelligence" with no discussion on socioeconomics.

What have you said in this thread about socioeconomics?

The nature of variance means that you would expect to find the highest and lowest means in groups with the smallest populations.

I can understand saying a statistic might be partly confounded by additional factors. I can't understand calling it meaningless. Just that it might not mean exactly what's implied. The stat itself is pretty hard to miss.

As another commenter noted, the smaller the group, the higher the variance. Extreme cases due to variance actually are quite meaningless.

I am not claiming that this particular statistic is meaningless. Just that it isn't necessarily meaningful, either.

The only take away from this is that Obama is secretly a jew.

This might shock the HN community but from my years of mentoring poor performing and under privileged high school students in the Bay Area (i.e. mostly from East Palo Alto), education is not valued by all cultures. I was shocked when I saw this. It was always so obvious to me. That said, it's only a shock because I was raised in a culture (Chinese) that had always valued education. If you never had the security of being sure of your future for more than a few months at a time, education might not seem the best choice. Education is an investment and one that only pays off if you are secure enough in your welfare to reap the benefits. Even for some middle class families, it is becoming a less obvious investment since the price of education has shot up while employment is harder to find.

If the idea of education is not universally valued, is it so hard to believe that groups that do will do better in fields that require years of study?

I read a while back an article on Slate or the Atlantic that sort of explores this very issue. The hypothesis was that Judaism was at one point defined by literacy. Basically, at some point, to be a Jew required you to be read and understand the Torah. It was enormously expensive and over time those who couldn't afford stopped being considered Jews and those who were left were the ones who could afford an education. Thus the culture became one that was placed a strong emphasis on education. Someone who've read the article or know history of the Jews better can correct me on this.

By the way, has anyone come up with a possible explanation for the seemingly disproportionate number of Jewish laureates and smart people in general? Do Jews have some tradition or belief that's helpful in this?

In traditional Jewish culture there is a large emphasis on education. In the most traditional sense, Rabbis are essentially scholars. They study the Torah. In ancient times they would sit around and do nothing but study the Torah and discuss its various interpretations--this was their primary purpose. You might consider them among the world's first pedants :) In traditional communities Rabbis are among the most respected members. Consequently, there is tremendous value placed on qualities of intelligence and conscientious study. Fast forward to current times and that still exists to a great degree in modern Jewish culture (in my experience).

I'd say the emphasis is more on professionalism. It's been a long time since Jews were primarily agricultural for many reasons (http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/everyday_economics/2003/0...). That combined with the fact that Christianity (for a long time) didn't allow loans with interest, so Jews filled in that role (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loans_and_interest_in_Judaism).

I don't know why this is on HN at all, however. When I was surprised at the supreme court ruling on gay marriage not well covered on HN (I thought the liberty angle made it appropriate), people seemed to think otherwise (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5949827).

Average IQ of 115 among the Ashkenazim. That's why. It's not really that interesting, but it enrages almost everyone who hears it. 115 isn't that smart, but it works out that they have a huge disproportion of members in the more important 145+ IQ range.

Anyway, you'll find that Jews have similar numbers in such things as Fields medals, Senate seats, the Forbes 400, etc, all at about 15-25 percent of the total.

Sorry, you're not allowed to assign average IQs to racial groups anymore. Not since black Americans were found to be lower than whites. You have to attribute the anomalous test scores to the biases in the tests to be politically correct.

You might find the book Twice as Less interesting, it offers an interesting and researched explanation for the validity of the effect you're mocking.

East asians have a higher average IQ,so it is not necessarily a straight iQ thing.

That's false. You can easily google it, here is one page: http://www.darkmoon.me/2012/world-iq-figures-with-brief-note...

Check Richard Lynn's Intelligence and the Wealth and Poverty of Nations

The top countries on that list are Japan(110),Hong Kong(107) and Taiwan(104).Germany and Singapore are tied at 103.


Did you even read the parent to which you replied?

Do you know who Ashkenazi are?

Do you realize that Ashkenazi do not have a specific country? Ie Israel IQ average is 94 because half the country are not Ashkenazi (Arabs / Sephardic Jews / others)

>Did you even read the parent to which you replied?

I did.And the 115 figure is wrong.It should actually be a range:108-115, and only for American Ashkenazim.It is a number that could be explained more by selective migration than anything else.A better comparison would have been between East Asians in the US and American Ashkenazim.The average for European Ashkenazim is about 102. There should also be a proper accounting for the bamboo ceiling



"According to a study performed by Cambridge University called, "From Chance to Choice: Genetic and Justice," Ashkenazi Jews have a median IQ of 117."

That study does NOT specifically mention American Jews.

Jews in the US are just more dominant/successful because of lack of persecution. But when allowed to, Jews were even more dominant in Soviet Union. For example They comprised 3% of population and 58% of Nobel laureates (total number 26).

Lastly, your point about selective migration is completely hollow. I know A LOT about Jewish history and there was no selective migration of smarter individuals. If anything - smarter/richer Jews would tend to stay in the old country.

>Jews in the US are just more dominant/successful because of lack of persecution.

And East Asians are just less dominant/successful because of the bamboo ceiling.

Could be. Don't forget - Nobel prizes are given our for work done 20-40 years ago. So Asians doing stuff now will only get recognized in the future. With time, I think they will catch up to Jews.

No they don't.

Way to contribute.

Iq relates very poorly to success in life. There are several publications on this subject so before saying /thats why/ you should look for other reasons that may explain their successes.

Funny, I've read the exact opposite.


For centuries, Jews in Europe were effectively barred from a great many professions. The big exception tended to be finance (money lending - which Christians were often barred from). So Jewish kids had to learn a lot of math, and some Jewish families had a lot of money.

There's actually a big boost second-generation immigrants get. They understand the culture they are in, but they feel they need to work hard to keep up, and they aren't too afraid to break the rules (since it's not really their culture).

I've read that because they often learn both Hebrew and English as young children, and therefore learn to read and write both left-to-right and right-to-left, this has an effect on the number of neural connections across both sides of the brain which results in an increase in creativity. Unfortunately, I can't find a link which even references this.

If this is the case, we may see a similar increase in Muslims in the coming generations as more of them are raised in English speaking cultures (assuming it will take a generation or two for us to have a large enough sample size).

I would be very skeptical since the same would apply to Chinese Americans too among others.

Like Tsung-Dao Lee and Chen Ning Yang, Samuel Chao Chung Ting, Shing-Tung Yau, Steven Chu, and Daniel Tsui? See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asian_American#Science_and_tech...

Plus the Chinese guy who built China's ICBMs (after the US exiled him, under suspicion that he as sympathetic to his home country ... smart move that was).

Oh, and Terrance Tao.

There's quite a few Chinese-Americans who did pretty well. I'm not sure what generation they are, and I'd have to check if there's a higher proportion than non-western Americans; but the general idea (which could do with some real verification) is that "outsiders" often pursue a lot of the higher risk careers which "insiders" don't tend to flock to.

Just have a look at the students at any hard-core undergraduate course, and count the number of students with black hair.

There's not so many famous Asians in entertainment, probably because of the parts available. A Chinese actor is more likely to be offered the role of "ethnic minor character", while a Jewish actor won't be so constrained.

You also have to account for both cultures placing a very strong emphasis on education. Judaism is defined by the Torah and Rabbis are scholars. Chinese and other East Asians are strongly influenced by Confucianism which places scholars at the top.

Also Indian Americans are well represented in hard core undergraduate courses too. Not sure which direction Indian is read from. If it's the same as Hebrew and Chinese then I might have to concede :-)

Here's a bit of anecdotal evidence (as it only takes one subject into account). http://singularityhub.com/2013/10/13/the-secret-to-einsteins...

Yeah, it's based on our tradition of studying Torah translating to studying other fields. The built in cultural requirement to always be a good study has made us wildly successful in academics.

1. It's not ALL Jews but rather Ashkenazi Jews who are so over-represented

2. Ashkenazi Jews come from Europe (they are basically descendents of Jewish men & Italian women) - this was just was just proven a few days ago [1].

3. Europe in the middle ages heavily discriminated against the Jews (mostly due to the Church). It manifested itself in a number of prohibitions on what Jews could and could not do.

4. These prohibitions put a large premium on intelligence. Then evolution took over - smart Jews were more successful and had more kids [1].

5. Until the late 20 century Jews had a very strong culture of marrying other Jews. So the smart Jews who had kids would only marry other Jews - thus raising intelligence with every generation (since it was not diluted by the larger gene pool of host countries)

6. This process went on for about a thousand years.

As a result, Ashkenazi population has the highest average IQ of any group (about 115 as mentioned in another comment). That in itself would not be a big deal - but that means that they have a DISPROPORTIONATELY large percent of people with really high IQ (2SD above the mean).

What I described is not controversial - it's pretty much current state of scientific thought on the issue.

[0] http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131008112539.ht...

[1] http://www.economist.com/node/4032638

They value education and work very hard to excel in these areas? In America, I think people in general would rather get MBA's and law degrees and simply import engineers and scientists. We've had a dislike of nerds, geeks, and "smart" people for quite some time. It only started becoming somewhat acceptable to people once you could make a lot of money.

In software development, you'll frequently find many people simply want to use the job as a stepping stone to middle management.

Unless they can control for all other factors or at least most of them, any explanation is going to look pretty silly.

Is it "submit random wikipedia articles to reap karma on HN" day already?

You should submit a more interesting article in response, that's the best way to teach the poster a lesson.

The article talk page[1] for this article points to some problems other Wikipedians have found with this article. It's easy to misclassify people without very careful checking of their biographies.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:List_of_Jewish_Nobel_laur...

The Jewish culture has valued certain types of intelligence for centuries, and probably as a result their average IQ is measurably higher due to selection effects. If you assume it is outliers on the IQ spectrum that will win the prize, this isn't surprising at all.

I'd guess that a big reason why people of the Jewish faith have been persecuted over the centuries is that because of their IQ advantage they gain more wealth than other peoples they may be around. It is fascinating.

am i reading this on hn? what are your sources? and what does jewish culture mean anyway when jewish people live in all continents in very different environments and of various descents? the reason why jewish people have accumulated more wealth may as well have nothing to do with their intelligence but merely because they support each other when they are in position of power and therefore raise the status of their communities.

please keep your blanket statements for some other place.

> am i reading this on hn? what are your sources?

This type of incredulous response is one of the most annoying thing about HN. It's pretty obvious that you've never put any serious thought into the issue; yet, instead of investigating for yourself, you make up some just-so story that puts you at ease.

A simple Google Scholar search would provide you will all types of answers, but since I doubt you'll be bothered to actually read an academic paper, just listen to Steven Pinker on the subject:


It is simply speculation and was stated as such. However, the IQ question has been studied and you can find discussion of it elsewhere in this thread.

The relatively hard data says that Jewish people are about 100 times more likely to win a Nobel prize than an average person. 100x is a big factor. Obviously, there must be some fairly powerful factor or factors involved, and it is interesting to speculate.

"Support each other" is the defining characteristic of the Jewish community. I am part of a different highly-educated minority, but its people seem to always be envious/jealous of each other and highly competitive, and so usually refuse to work with one another.

there are oter communities supporting each other. Hungarians are well knwn in that regard too. But again I would be very careful not to attribute this to higher intelligence or something.

> ..they support each other when they are in position of power and therefore raise the status of their communities.

I think the real question to ask then is what is religious breakdown of the various Nobel committee's?

Famous Jewish Sports Legends:


That is what I always think of when someone mentions the book "Javascript: The Good Parts".

Where is the title editing when it is needed? Noble -> Nobel

It could be a value judgment.

Interestingly all Abrahamic religions begin with a warning about the tree of knowledge...

I still can't believe what a fucked up parable that is.

I'm pretty certain the story of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and the expulsion from paradise is a parable about choosing between:

a) Happy but ignorant

b) Unhappy but well informed

and the fact that humans instinctively choose the second option. It's not a warning that knowledge is bad, it's just an acknowledgment that it's better to know the truth, even when the knowledge makes us feel worse.

The knowledge of good and evil, if I recall correctly. That might apply to the peace prize but probably not to the prizes in physics or chemistry.

All Abrahamic religions? Islam does not call it the tree "of knowledge" and pursuit of knowledge is encouraged (at least in Islam).

my b

Very impressive indeed. There is a disproportionate ratio of Jewish people serving as CEOs of large corporations as well. I heard on Freakanomics radio that parenting and nurturing does not contribute much to the later success in life. Its the nature not nurture, they concluded. They used adoption data to come to that conclusion, although one can always find some argument against that study because its only an inductive argument in the end.

A related article was "Muslim nobel laureates". Total:10. I did some quick meaningless math, and found that there's 1 nobel prize winner for every 160 million muslims, and 1 for every 70,000 jews.

I'm not going to try and interpret the data, but I do think that's interesting.

While it doesn't change the argument, its important to note that Jewish carries a greater genetic specificity then Muslim.

.2% of world's population and 20% of Nobel prizes won. p.s: * Nobel

Look how many MEN have won, too! That is one intelligent gender.

0.1% of the world's population and 20% of the prizes won!

Agree , and there are beautiful Jewish actresses too.

Jewish have a strong sense of community. Nothing wrong about that.

So if there are lots of jewish who are choosing the laureates, it's "normal" to see a lot of jewish ending up nobel laureates.

1. It's not genetic. 2. "Why isn't it genetic? Spend a day with an Isralie who just arrived in the U.S.. 3. If I say anything else, I'll never hear the end of it.

Wow. Whoever put the list of Muslim Nobel Laureates in the article is a bit of a prick. Let's pit one group of people vs. the other.

Yeah, Richard Dawkins got in trouble for tweeting something very similar a couple months ago:


These statistics make me curious about the religious breakdown of the various Nobel committee's.

Very impressive

How do you decide who's noble and who's not?

Full electron shells?

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