Scientific Sense Podcast

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Per capita knowledge

Switzerland and Sweden, both with more than 2 dozen Nobel laureates, producing over 30 prize winners per 10 million population stand in stark contrast to India and China, returning about 0.07 on the same metric. Some may argue that it is a denominator problem but with China and India showing less than a dozen winners, it is tough to argue that it is a size and scale problem. Furthermore, Nobel prizes in areas such as Peace and Literature commanding an equal share of those in hard sciences, one cannot put this down to lack of resources and equipment.

Per capita Nobel prizes is an interesting metric as fundamental advances could be made by paper and pencil or by sheer imagination. Thus, it normalizes the technology advantages that could be attributed to advanced economies. With the US, Canada and France at only 1/3 of the rate of the leaders, it is clear that access to resources and technology cannot explain the disparity. One has to look into educational systems and the prevailing attitude to fundamental innovation in the culture as possible attributes that influence this outcome. Lack of freedom in political systems, due to either autocracy or religion, could be another common factor pointing to underperformance.

Humans, 7 billion near clones, segmented across the world, show dramatic differences in the stock and flow of per capita knowledge. The laggards could learn a lot from observing those who do it better.

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