In an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post today, Uriya Shavit tackles a touchy subject:
While Jews, who are only around 0.2 percent of the world population, have won a quarter of all Nobel Prizes awarded in the sciences, Muslims, who are one quarter of the world population, have won only a handful, even by the most generous accounts. And while relative to its size, Israel’s tiny academia has been the world’s leading Nobel power over the past decade, Arab universities have yet to produce their first Nobel laureate.
Shavit challenges what he calls a “conventional explanation” for the imbalance—“Jewish genius,” itself a controversial conception—asserting that this x-factor can be broken down into a combination of Jews’ traditional commitment to education, and their concentration in “modern” societies that foster openness to the “greater world” and scientific exploration. “Remove one part of this equation—heritage or modernity—and the ‘Jewish genius’ vanishes,” says Shavit. In fact, he fears that as secular Jews move farther from their heritage and observant Jews becoming increasingly cloistered, the well of Nobel Prize-winning Jews will dry up.
As for Muslims, Shavit blames “a monopoly of the spiritual and the metaphysical” over the rational and scientific in many Arab nations. “Science can only flourish in a culture that does not recognize any taboos and constantly doubts creeds of all sorts,” he says. Meanwhile, “Contemporary leading Arab universities produce books and essays that depict Darwin, Freud, Marx and other brilliant modern minds as part of a Jewish conspiracy to bring about the downfall of humanity.” As a result of this intellectual isolation, he suggests, “the first Muslim affiliated with a Middle Eastern university to win a Nobel Prize will be an Arab-Israeli.”