'Jews 10x more likely to win Nobel Prize outside Israel'

Shechtman says Israel's future as a leader in research and innovation will be bleak without investment.

Professor Dan Shechtman 390 (photo credit: Lihee Avidan)
Professor Dan Shechtman 390
(photo credit: Lihee Avidan)
Israel’s future as a world leader in research and innovation will be bleak unless the state invests more in funding research centers, Prof. Dan Shechtman, the 2011 Nobel Prize laureate for Chemistry said on Thursday.
“If we look at the number of Jews in Israel as being similar to the number outside of Israel and look at the number of Israelis who won Nobel Prizes, you see the chances are about 10 times higher for a Jew outside of Israel to win the Nobel Prize than a Jew who lives in Israel.”
Shechtman, a professor at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, said the problem is a shortage of infrastructure to support researchers, adding that the majority of Israelis who have won Nobel Prizes partnered with researchers or scientists from foreign countries or they themselves performed their work abroad, where there is a much better infrastructure of support for academic research.
“It’s great to pat ourselves on the shoulder, but we must look at the entire picture,” Shechtman said.
Shechtman’s comments came during a panel called “The Future of Israel’s Higher Education” held at the Herzliya Conference at the Interdisciplinary Center.
The panel dealt with the paradox of Israel being seen as a center of innovation and academic success, while at the same time dealing with a declining state primary school system. The discussion came the same week that the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) ranked Israel the second-most educated country in the world.
The ranking cited among other factors, the fact that 45% of Israel’s population has a university or college diploma.
In his comments, Prof. Menachem Yaari of the Center for the Study of Rationality at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem described how the United States became a research and science leader in the post-WWII years due to the massive investment of the federal government.
Yaari also described how the government of Israel spends $80 million per year on the national science foundation, as opposed to the US federal government, which he said budgets $80 billion per year to the support of research institutions. He clarified that while it is true that the US is 50 times larger than Israel in terms of population, the government spends 1,000 times as much on research.
“If you ask leading Israeli researchers where they did their research, most of them would say they did it abroad,” he said.
To emphasize this point, he stated that each of the 20 leading research institutions in the United States invests more individually than the state of Israel invests each year.
Aaron Ben-Ze’ev, president of the University of Haifa, argued that greater cooperation between universities and private and state colleges would help Israeli researchers keep up with their counterparts in the United States and elsewhere.
Israel Prize laureate and former education minister Amnon Rubinstein called on the state to invest in a system of community colleges, saying that it would help those who are disadvantaged and don’t benefit enough from a strong support system at home.
He said that he doesn’t believe that the Council for Higher Education should be abolished, but that it must go through large-scale reforms.
The panel also dealt briefly with how innovations in technology, particularly the Internet, have changed how students learn and if they pose a threat to the university model.
Rubinstein said since the time of Socrates and Aristotle higher education has more or less followed the same method, and he expects the situation will remain about the same in the coming future.
Prof. Mordechai Sokolov from the Tel Aviv Academic College of Engineering said he believes that computers and online technology will never entirely replace the value of interpersonal interaction in education.
He also maligned current deficiencies in Israeli students of the digital generation, saying that “the average Israeli student doesn’t know a single thing about Islam even though we are surrounded by Muslims on all sides.”