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Five More Jewish Nobel Laureates: What Does it Mean?

Friday, October 7, 2011 @ 09:10 AM
posted by Roger Price
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     This past week the Royal Swedish Academy of Science announced the award of Nobel Prizes for 2011 in, among other fields, physics, chemistry and medicine. Seven individuals were honored. Apparently five are Jewish. What, if anything, does that mean?

     First the facts:

     In physics, the prize was divided, one half to Saul Perlmutter of the Supernova Cosmology Project, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the other half jointly to Adam Riess, Johns Hopkins University and Space Telescope Science Institute, and Brian Schmidt, Australian National University, both of the High-z Supernova Research Team “for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the Universe through observations of distant supernovae.” Some astrophysicists think that the acceleration is driven by “dark energy,” a force that may constitute 75% of the universe and is currently little understood.

     In chemistry, Daniel Schectman, Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, received the award “for the discovery of quasicrystals.” In quasicrystals, patterns of atoms follow mathematical rules, but never repeat themselves – a configuration previously considered impossible. This discovery challenges existing conceptions of the structure of solid matter.

     In medicine, the prize was divided, one half jointly to Bruce Beutler and Jules Hoffman “for the discoveries concerning the activation of innate immunity” and one half to the late Ralph Steinman “for his discovery of the dendritic cell and its role in adaptive immunity.” These discoveries show how immune responses are activated and, consequently, open the door to new approaches to the prevention of and therapy for  certain diseases.

     Of these, apparently all are Jewish but Schmidt and Hoffman. The extent of their observance, if any, is not known. Nor is it clear who favors the school of Hillel and who the school of Shammai.

     I have remarked previously on the astonishing percentages of Jewish Nobel winners. (See Post 7/1/11.) Different folks can look at this new information and draw quite different conclusions. Some will conclude that the probability of so many prizes being awarded to such a tiny subset of humanity (a small fraction of 1%) is so low that the result can only be explained by a finely tuned universe that contains the conditions which allow for such a result. Others will extend that thought to conclude that there must be a Fine Tuner who has fashioned the universe in order for this statistically improbable event to occur. Still others will see the result as the natural consequences of evolution over time which has rewarded traits that developed because they enhanced the chance for survival.

     But maybe, for the Jewish people generally, as that wise Old Country milkman, Tevye, said about another matter, “It doesn’t change a thing, but even so . . . it’s nice to know.”

     Mazel Tov to all!!

                Roger Price

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