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Stanford University School of Medicine

Measuring American leadership in science through Nobel Prizes

A fascinating infographic created by Jon Bruner and posted online today on Forbes depicts the Unites States' commanding lead in scientific research. Illustrated in the graphic is the number of Nobel Prize winners by country and award from 1901 to present day. In describing the chart, Bruner notes several interesting findings. He writes:

The United States has won more Nobel prizes for physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, and economics since World War II than any other country, by a wide margin (it has been less dominant in literature and peace, two awards that are much more broadly distributed among nations). At least one American has won a prize each year since 1935 (excluding the years 1940 through 1942, when no prizes were given out). And the United States became dominant after a very slow start: no American won a science prize in the first six years of the prize’s existence.

The United States is also unique in the scale on which it attracts human capital: of the 314 laureates who won their Nobel prize while working in the U.S., 102 (or 32%) were foreign born, including 15 Germans, 12 Canadians, 10 British, six Russians and six Chinese (twice as many as have received the award while working in China). Compare that to Germany, where just 11 out of 65 Nobel laureates (or 17%) were born outside of Germany (or, while it still existed, Prussia). Or to Japan, which counts no foreigners at all among its nine Nobel laureates.

Later on in the post, Burner notes that the graph is a bit of a "lagging indicator of scientific leadership" since Nobel Prizes are commonly awarded to scientists for discoveries published ten to thirty years earlier. It's a point we should all ponder when considering the importance of funding scientific and medical research in the present.

Previously: Nobel Prize in Medicine awarded to three for work in immunology and Developer of in vitro fertilization wins Nobel Prize

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