Thursday, October 09, 2003

American Dominance of Nobels Continues

I think the following a compelling testimony to the quality of America's university system:

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) -- If the Nobel Prizes are a good indicator, Americans are the world's best doctors, physicists, economists and chemists.

They're not as good at writing or making peace though.

Six U.S. citizens were bestowed the top honor in medicine, physics, chemistry and economics this week as the Nobel Prize committees announced the 2003 winners, continuing a trend of American dominance in the science awards.


Since the first Nobel Prizes were awarded in 1901, 277 of the 661 winners -- or 42 percent -- have been Americans. Many of the other winners have been researchers at U.S. universities.

``There's a brutal predominance for the U.S.,'' said Jonas Foerare, a spokesman for the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which picks the winners in physics, chemistry and economics. ``This shows that the American investments in their university system are very successful.''

Foerare was speaking from experience. He did post-doctoral work in biology at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

The academy on Wednesday awarded the chemistry prize to Americans Peter Agre and Roderick MacKinnon for studies of tiny transportation tunnels in cell walls, work that illuminates diseases of the heart, kidneys and nervous system.

American Robert F. Engle shared the 2003 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences with Briton Clive W.J. Granger, the first non-American to win that award since Amartya Sen of India in 1998.

``We don't take into consideration where people are from. It's just that the best American universities are very good and they attract gifted researchers from the whole world,'' said Lars Calmfors, Professor of International Economics at Stockholm University and member of the committee that selects prize winners in economics.

Calmfors said the Nobel award committees are sometimes criticized by people who believe they should try harder to find laureates outside of the United States.

``But there isn't a widespread dissatisfaction. Everyone is aware of the situation,'' he said. ``They (Americans) have resources and there are opportunities to pay competent researchers high salaries.''

Thirty-five of the 56 economics winners have been Americans.

In the highlighted statement we again see the ugly phenomenon of quotaism rearing its' head, but let us not be distracted from the important issue here, which is that there is an important lesson to be drawn from America's outsized success in the Nobel prize sweepstakes over the years. America's dominance of scientific research is out of all proportion to almost any metric one might choose to use for measurement, whether it be population size, percentage of world GDP, or government spending on higher education, and I believe that the vitality of American higher education owes largely to a feature whose benefits many on the left are quick to downplay in other contexts - freedom. By freedom, I mean three things; the relative freedom that exists in the United States to start new educational institutions, the freedom that students have to use government aid to attend institutions of their own choosing, and the comparative freedom that colleges have to charge what they think the market will bear, as well as who they wish to admit, by contrast with their European counterparts. Competition is a wonderful thing, and the unchallenged preeminence of American higher education is a testament to the importance of having the freedom to choose.

In making my case for the merits of the American university system, I highlighted above the role of government aid in the enabling of choice, for a very simple reason: this laudable policy, is little more than a scheme that is widely hated under the guise by which it most widely mentioned, which is that of the school voucher. College grants and government-subsidized loans are routinely used to attend religious institutions such as the Notre Dame and Georgetown1 without anyone blinking an eyelid, and nobody would think of imposing any but the most limited restrictions on the schools that could benefit from such publicly-funded largesse, and yet, whenever talk turns to providing much the same sort of thing in the setting of elementary and high school education, liberals, many of them tenured academics, outdo themselves in thinking up bogus reasons to oppose the very same sort of choice that has made American universities the envy of the world. The end result of this nonsense is that millions of poor Americans are condemned to patronize "schools" that are actually obstacles to learning, and America gets to keep on spending more per student than any other country, only to obtain results that are worse than the OECD average.

1 - Attended by a certain cigar-chomping, woman groping ex-POTUS much loved by Democrats.