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50% of Nobel Laureates this year are Brits

And it might also be true that zero percent of this years’s Nobel Laureates live in Britain.

I wonder what that’s telling us.

26 thoughts on “50% of Nobel Laureates this year are Brits”

  1. Academic salaries are better elsewhere because more of the universities elsewhere are not, fundamentally, distant parts of the civil service.

    Let’s be honest. What are we willing to put up with more? An academic brain drain, mostly for peeps who have already done their best work? Or, £50k per year fees for undergrads? It’s not even if the latter stops “feminist sociology of the Napoleonic Wars” degrees (hint – minimal and even that was unimportant.)

  2. They were all doing work in the UK that would later get them a Nobel and they all fucked off to the states when Thatcher was in power.

  3. They mainly left the UK a long time ago. The brain drain was a 1970s thing, wasn’t it? For the last couple of decades the brain-flow has been inward, as evidenced by the high proportion of our researchers who are foreigners.

    Whether things stay that way post-Brexit is another matter. My foreign colleagues grumble every time the pound takes another hit; presumably scientists value their pay packets too.

  4. Women’s Olympic Golf – most of the players, when they announced them on the first tee, blah blah representing whah whah, the TV announcers would tell us, “She lives in _____, Florida.”

    Most of them. Female professional golfers live in Florida. That’s the deal.

    The drain isn’t just from UK. Global economy yields global mobility.

  5. Andrew M, presumably you furrin colleagues are in the UK; if they are, and are paid in Euros, then wouldn’t the pound taking a hit be to their advantage, increasing their purchasing power? If they’re paid in Sterling, then their purchasing power in the UK is largely unaffected, so the only reason to complain is when they visit ‘home’ or remit cash – including debt payments or savings. Either way, they’re behaving as expatriates rather than migrants, and merely facing facing the everyday problems of expatriate life. If this is a shock to them then I’m not sure we should include them in a discussion of a ‘brain drain’.

  6. Gamecock, in a choice between Florida and, say, Lytham St Anne’s, I’m not sure minor differentials in income would matter. In fact, I think I’d be willing to take a pay cut to go from the Fylde to Florida.

  7. So Much For Subtlety

    Are they old enough to have gone to a grammar?

    I imagine it is telling us that British private education is top class.

  8. I made my career, such as it was, in embedded computing and later microprocessors. The U.K. Opportunities were, shall we say, limited. I ended up in the USA when my U.K. Employer sought to flog its goodies there – turns out there’s some advantage to having a bloke in place who understands the stuff rather than just hiring reps, marketers and disti.

    Hard to do a real world comparison (since we don’t have alternate world traveling machines) but I get the sense that I’m much better off financially here and have had fewer torments in employment.

    So a good choice for me.

  9. Nemo,
    The people I refer to are paid in Sterling obviously: otherwise they wouldn’t be grumbling.

    The serious issue is that as a nation we rely a fair bit on skilled foreign workers. The pound is down about 20% against the euro; so your Spanish engineers and Greek surgeons are now much more likely to head to Germany instead of to the UK. This makes our lives worse: without the Greek surgeon, somebody’s granny isn’t going to get her hip operation.

    The company I work for mostly sells overseas so they can afford to give us all a 20% pay rise. In fact they might have no choice if they want to keep attracting those skilled workers.

  10. I think what this tells us is simply that US universities with no collective bargaining and huge endowments (and less dependence on state funds) are able to pay to attract top-end researchers.

    And UK universities produce excellent researchers on a reliable basis, many of whom will be poached by US universities after they do something particularly notable.

    It is worth noting that the University of Birmingham employed two of the physics laureates and one of the chemistry laureates during the period they actually wrote the papers that got the prizes. The US employed none of them until afterwards. So this probably says something about the relative standing of the US in terms of actual research as opposed to ability to hire those who have done the research (I never understand why people fixate on where the late-career researchers, whose major value if any is bringing through other researchers, end up – the value of a researcher is mainly in their early-mid career when they normally make their major discoveries).

  11. AndrewM,

    I don’t know where the “obviously” comes into it; I don’t even know for sure that you work in the UK, so covered a variety of possibilities as I dislike making simplistic assumptions. Have you ever considered doing the same?

    Back to your vague scenario, you didn’t address my point about their purchasing power in the UK being largely unaffected, and if they’re unable to factor that in then I’ll stick by my point that they hardly count as a ‘brain drain’; any manual labourer can factor it in, such that a man on £10k p.a. in Liverpool is unlikely to move to London for the prospect of £12k – he’d be paid 20% more and living on the street. And that’s without addressing the issue of demand and language that a Greek surgeon might face in the real world, let alone the Murphyesque vacuity of “as a nation we rely a fair bit”.

  12. Nemo,

    That’s Harold Wilson’s “pound in your pocket” speech. Yes, their purchasing power in the UK is unaffected, as long as they don’t buy food, petrol, clothes, foreign holidays, etc. The highly skilled foreigners in the UK aren’t here for the weather: they’re here to make lots of money for themselves. Now they’re saving 20% less each month than they were a year ago; their visits to family & friends back home cost 20% more too.

    Consequently, the highly-skilled workers (both Britons and non-Britons) in the UK are considering leaving; and those who aren’t in the UK are now much less likely to come here. In the example of the Greek surgeon (yes he’s real) moving to Australia, it means some Britons won’t get the operations they need. In the case of the French banker moving to Switzerland, it means the British exchequer isn’t getting that income tax. This is bad news.

  13. Andrew M,

    Though Harold Wilson went to the same school as me, I’m not repeating his speech; I didn’t use the word “pound” or “pocket” and mine was an observation, not a speech. Speaking of which, I haven’t observed any marked increase in inflation: have the prices of food, petrol, clothes and foreign holidays risen 20% already? I’m observing from a distance which makes it less easy to see.

    And so your real Greek surgeon isn’t really moving to Germany but to Australia, an English-speaking country with a large Greek diaspora and good weather; did he really turn down an identical role in Britain or can we really say that weather, culture and language are in fact more important than fickle currency movements in the case study you’ve provided? So much for The Envy Of The World if it now has to deny people treatment because one Greek surgeon denied it his services; he must be quite the specialist.

    I suspect the same would be true of your French banker’s decision to base himself in Switzerland, if he were real – it being a non-EU, non-Euro country with a non-fixed exchange rate, French widely spoken, a few minutes’ drive from Geneve to France and French domestic laws quite familiar with such set-ups, not to mention being so senior as to be able to decide for himself where he’ll provide banking services.

    Then there’s your own company that can afford to not only raise wages for its disadvantaged foreign workers, but also 20% for your unaffected good self – talk about a Brexit bonus, and it hasn’t even happened yet. Forgive me for saying, but you’re pretty terrible at picking examples to prove your point. But at least you can see into the mind (sic) of the highly skilled workers in the UK to know they’re considering leaving, so at least there’s that.

  14. Bloke in North Dorset


    “Though Harold Wilson went to the same school as me,”

    So did I in ’67 & ’68. I was sent there against the wishes of my parents, who wanted me to go to the other grammar school, but they were overruled by the education bureaucrats, I found out later. I hated the place and was so glad when they moved to Pickering, but by then it was too late.

  15. Bloke in North Dorset


    “They were all doing work in the UK that would later get them a Nobel and they all fucked off to the states when Thatcher was in power.”

    As Andrew M as already pointed out, this happened in the late 60s and 70s, a period when our all seeing MPs (of both major parties as Govt changed but policies didn’t) and Civil Servants oversaw an incomes and prices policy that meant they knew better than employers what the value of their workers’ labour was worth – hence the talent leaving the country because it wasn’t being paid its true value.

    It was also a period on industrial strategies, which all failed, and it looks like May is going to repeat those failures.

  16. BiND,

    Not sure we’re on exactly the same page: mine was the school were Wilson did his sixth form and was head boy.

  17. Nemo,
    Are you really unable to accept that a 20% fall in your currency means at least* a 20% rise in the cost of a holiday in the other currency zone? And that people don’t factor in their foreign-currency earnings when considering jobs abroad, but instead just look at the weather or culture? Because as I pointed out already, the Greeks and Spaniards aren’t coming here for the sunshine; nor for the Phantom of the Opera.

    (*Actually 25% dearer, because maths; but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt since you’re already struggling.)

  18. Andrew M,
    Yes: I’m unable to accept your simplistic assessment of economics as a static, feedback-free pursuit. Like I said – and you ignored – you pick terrible real-world examples to support your theorising. So how could I doubt your foreign holiday example? Well, because if a place is heavily dependent on tourists from a single country and said country experiences an economic shock, then the tourist place might experience a drop in demand, and what might follow a drop in demand? Why, a drop in price, of course! Hope I’m not getting too technical for you here.

    Now, I’m not saying that falling prices in the tourist spot will fully offset the economic shock, but it’s possible – it’s even possible that the falling prices will overshoot the economic shock. More likely is that it will merely mitigate a bit of the shock. As I also said before though – and as you also seem to have ignored – I dislike making simplistic assumptions. I still think it would be a useful trait for you to adopt.

  19. Nemo,

    > falling prices in the tourist spot will […] merely mitigate a bit of the shock

    Then we’re in agreement. My examples are simplistic, but they are correct. Your feedback effects don’t make a material difference to the argument.

    Besides, I can accept that some heavily Brit-focused tourist destinations will adjust their prices – it happened in the Algarve after a summer of poor receipts in 2009. But it won’t happen in most places. Don’t forget that UK domestic holidays – “staycations” – became more expensive during that time too. A falling currency is bad for consumers, no matter how you try to talk it up.

  20. BTW, the Nobel committee list of laureates by country is based on in which country the birthplace of the Nobel laureate is currently.

    This leads to a rather bizarre list where Fritz Albert Lippmann and Otto Wallach, who were born in Königsberg, East Prussia (Germany) are now listed under Russian Federation because Königsberg is today Russian Kaliningrad. But of course they were Germans, not Russians.

    And then us Finns were particularly annoyed as Martti Ahtisaari, our former President, and recipient of the Peace Prize in 2008, was also listed under Russian Federation, because he was born in 1937 in Finnish Viipuri/Viborg which was annexed by Russia after the Winter War in 1940.

    I.e. USSR started an illegal war, for which it was expelled from the League of Nations in late 1940, annexed territories, and as a reward, its legacy nation Russia (now on its way becoming USSR again) got the credit for the Nobel Peace Price of 2008…

    However, after the press made a noise about this, the Nobel committee saw this is bad publicity and they changed the listing for Ahtisaari. For Lippmann and Wallach it still stands.

  21. pjt,

    Since awarding it to someone for being half-black and not-George-Bush who subsequently, and entirely predictably as Commander in Chief of the world’s largest military, went on to disturb a fair chunk of the world’s peace, the ‘Peace Prize’ doesn’t confer quite the glory that it once did. I can’t help thinking you got a raw deal with the list they chose to amend.

  22. Andrew M,

    We were never in particular disagreement about furrin holidays; my only mention of it was to ask if their prices had already inflated, because I’m not in a position to see for myself. The effects on the argument may vary, but it’s very pertinent to a precisely-phrased question accompanied by a jibe about sums:

    “Are you really unable to accept that a 20% fall in your currency means at least* a 20% rise in the cost of a holiday in the other currency zone?

    (*Actually 25% dearer, because maths; but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt since you’re already struggling.)”

    So I answered. That still leaves all the points about what’s really important in choosing a place of work for people such as your real Greek surgeon, of course, but I guess we’ve moved on from that.

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