Nobel Prize distribution is evidence of US brain gain, claims study

October 30, 2003

Brussels, 29 Oct 2003

Scientific dominance by the US and the related decline of science in Europe is demonstrated by the changing pattern of Nobel Laureates' nationality, claims a new report by the UK's Sutton Trust.

The Sutton Trust examined the nationality of all chemistry, economics, medicine and physics prize winners since the launch of the Nobel Prize in 1900 who were affiliated to a university at the time the prize was awarded (532 out of 559). If Laureates were affiliated to more than one university, only their primary institution was taken into account.

The study showed that US citizens dominate the list of recipients since 1970. Over half of Nobel Prizes have been won by Americans since this date, and recently, the figure has been closer to two thirds. The UK remains in second place, but is receiving fewer prizes than it once did, whereas the number of German recipients has fallen from 30 per cent before World War II, to less than ten per cent since 1940. France occupies fourth place, but has only won the prize 26 times since 1900, compared with 67, 77 and 235 times in Germany, the UK and the US respectively.

Statistics on the major institution of each prizewinner also illustrates a growing US dominance. US universities have won around half of all scientific Nobel Prizes, and are currently receiving over 70 per cent. UK universities consistently won around 20 per cent of prizes until the 1970s, and now collect under ten per cent, while Germany has yet to win a prize this century.

Information on Laureates who were affiliated to a university of a different nationality to their own give a clear picture of American brain gain. In the first half of the 20th century, just three Nobel Prizes were won in US universities by non-Americans. This figure has already been matched in the first three years of the 21st century alone.

The Sutton Trust concedes that examining the allocation of Nobel Prizes alone does not provide a comprehensive representation of scientific achievement in Europe and the US, but claims that other evidence supports the conclusions of the study: 'Clearly Nobel Prizes do not give us the whole picture. Although they are the best known, most prestigious and richest prizes, they do not cover maths or other sciences such as ecology, evolution and space science. Including all major prizes in the analysis does not, however, alter the conclusion; the United States' share is over half, and the UK comes in second at around ten per cent.'

The study notes that a survey of citations in scientific papers shows the same pattern: 'here again the United States accounts for half of the world's citations and the United Kingdom is second with nine per cent.'

The reason for the relative decline in scientific achievement outside the US is the lack of higher education funding, concludes the Sutton Trust. Comparing the situation in the US with that in the UK, the report cites the following evidence for this claim: '20 years ago, the UK spent 10,000 GBP [14.572 euro] per student on university tuition at today's prices; now it spends only 5,100 GBP [7,431 euro]. The reverse is true in America where, for private universities, average funding per student has grown from 6,000 GBP [8,743 euro] to over 11,000 GBP [16,028] over the past two decades.'

The study concludes with a pessimistic view on the future, particularly for the UK: 'Nobel Prizes give a time-delayed measure of performance, and given the rapid deterioration of funding at British universities over the last 20 years, it is likely that Britain's current position vis-à-vis the US is worse than that suggested by this analysis of Nobel Prizes.' To read the report in full, please visit: http:///www.suttontrust.com/text/nobel.do c

CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities

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