No black scientist has ever won a Nobel – that's bad for science, and bad for society

October 9, 2018 by Winston Morgan, The Conversation
Black scientists lack role models who look like them. Credit: pathdoc/Shutterstock

Many in the scientific world are celebrating the fact that two women received this year's Nobel prizes in physics and chemistry. Donna Strickland and Frances Arnold are only the 20th and 21st female scientists to be recognised by the Nobel Committee. Yet in over 100 years, we have never seen a black scientist become a Nobel laureate.

Every year, the annual October Nobel Prize announcements coincide with Black History Month, which is a painful reminder that of the more than 900 Nobel laureates, only 14 (1.5%) have been black and none in . Almost all black laureates have been awarded for work in the fields of peace (ten) and literature (three). During that time the closest a black scientist has come to winning has been social scientist Arthur Lewis for his work economics in 1973.

By contrast there have been over 70 Asian laureates, the majority in the sciences, and since 2000 that number has significantly increased. This is partly due to the increasing influence and power of Japanese, Chinese, Korean universities and the success of the Asian American academy. To win a Nobel Prize for science, it helps if you are in a prestigious institution and in a position to lead big expensive science.

The main reason why no black scientist has won a Nobel prize is simply a matter of numbers. Not enough bright young are choosing science. Alongside the more limited opportunities for black Africans, black people in Western countries are less likely to study science, less likely to achieve a top degree and less likely to progress to scientific careers.

To even be considered as a possible Nobel laureate you must become a principal investigator or a professor in a leading institution. Yet, once a black science graduate makes it to the first rung on the academic ladder they face the same challenges as any other black academic around access to promotion and access to resources. For example, we know black scientists in the US are less likely to receive funding for health research.

To become a professor you need support from your institution and to find at least four existing professors at other institutions who will support your application and certify that you are a leader in your field with an international reputation. This requires building large internal and external networks. For many reasons, not enough black academics work in institutions where such reputations and networks are made, significantly reducing the possibility of being promoted to professors.

This is also something of a circular problem. It seems highly likely the perception that black people don't reach the highest level in science has in some ways affected the success of black people in science. Research suggests female role models can encourage women to pursue careers in science, and the same seems likely to be true for black people. Having a black Nobel laureate would inspire more black students to become black professors, which in turn would inspire more young black people to study science.

During my own undergraduate studies, many courses began with a professor describing the inspirational work of a Nobel laureate, who was usually a white man. These individuals were elevated to superhuman status, people we should aspire to be like because their work had transcended the field. This clearly appealed to me as it reinforced my desire to become a scientist.

But at the same time, as a black student, achieving that level of success or even anything along that path appeared far more distant as there was never a black laureate on the list. Although I was not deterred by this fact, I have no doubt it had an impact, not just on me but on my fellow white students and more importantly my tutors, and later my university employers and those awarding research grants. A black Nobel laureate would have made it easier for them to see me as a potential high achiever and treat me accordingly.

Why we need action

More black scientists wouldn't just be a victory for equality but would benefit wider society. For example, conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer and many others have a higher incidence in of black or African heritage. Yet research is often biased towards studying white people. More black scientists, especially in leading positions, could bring greater focus, understanding and different insights to investigating these conditions. They could also help lead the decolonising of science, again with wider advantages to society.

So how can we increase the chances of a black scientist becoming a Nobel laureate? We cannot wait for Africa to have the same political and economic power as Asia. Looking at the 49 women Nobel Prize winners, of which only 21 were scientists and only three in physics, we see a similar challenge. But with the advent of many successful campaigns backed by political action to increase the number of women in science, particularly in the leading institutions and in leading positions, the number of women laureates is likely to increase significantly. If we want more black scientists and eventually Nobel laureates, then similar direct strategic action is urgently needed.

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25 comments

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fuckyouyoufuckingfuck
5 / 5 (4) Oct 09, 2018
Science benefits from people of any color doing science. The Nobel prize is not science its politics.
mqr
3.7 / 5 (6) Oct 09, 2018
''open a school and it will close a prision'' someone said it in France in the 19 century


''close schools and open prisons'' bannon / rumsfeld / the very stable genius, in the USA 21 century

humanity moving towards hatred
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (4) Oct 09, 2018
I thought these awards were for the achievement of the person and not their identity -?

If minorities are not achieving, it's kind of pointless to blame the award isnt it? I mean its nor like affirmarmtive action in Hollywood is it? If it were then we would see an inexplicable number of Brits and aussies getting nobels.
Doug_Nightmare
3.7 / 5 (3) Oct 09, 2018
LOL. "Didn't do nuffin'" has its costs too. Affirmative Reaction. Feel the H8. Learn it, love it, live it.
antialias_physorg
4.3 / 5 (6) Oct 09, 2018
As long as they give the prize to the best (body of) work I don't really care what the distribution of black/white/male/female/whatever is. Science benefits everyone. It doesn't care who or what you are - so we shouldn't care what the distribution of these incidental factors is where it comes from.

This doesn't mean we shouldn't look to help people from groups that are being discriminated against (in whatever from) from entering science. But that's an entirely different topic.
As soon as the Nobel prize is given out because of some PC-ness for color/gender instead of impact it's lost a lot of its worth (e.g. like the Nobel peace prize did long ago)
Anonym216579
1.5 / 5 (8) Oct 09, 2018

''close schools and open prisons'' bannon / rumsfeld / the very stable genius, in the USA 21 century


Why do you liberals insist on making up "facts". Thats not how it works. A fact is something real. Making something up to support your twisted ideology isnt a fact. Its a lie. Thats a fact. And more on topic, if your beloved democrats would make black people work for a living instead of rewarding them with free handouts perhaps someone of color would end up getting the nobel prize.
mqr
2 / 5 (4) Oct 09, 2018
Kind of funny.... typical of white supremacists.... or should we call them white victims?

How is talking of receiving FREE handouts?????? you used people for slavery, invaded their nations and murdered by millions to take their land, to steal gold, food and rape women. Where? it is better to start with the opposite question, where don't???? or I am creating facts????? do you remember the slavery of black people by americans, spaniards, etc? do you remember the invasion of America and Africa by white europeans????

My preferred white contribution is child pornography.... because it is a creation of white males that shows their high ethical standards....

No wonder why the number one reason of death in white males is suicide..... and they are so hypocritical ignorant and insane that they are acting as the victims!!!!!!! even victims of white women!!!!!!!

Go ahead, pack, travel and murder, rape and invade and call yourself ''a conqueror, a warrior, an elite special force''
TrollBane
5 / 5 (1) Oct 09, 2018
mqr, your claim that white males invented child pornography is a stretch, considering the age of M-you-knowj-who's 'wife' when he 'married' her, and the number of childhood arranged marriages in South Asia, etc.
jonesdave
1.8 / 5 (5) Oct 09, 2018
Why do you liberals insist on making up "facts". Thats not how it works. A fact is something real. Making something up to support your twisted ideology isnt a fact. Its a lie. Thats a fact. And more on topic, if your beloved democrats would make black people work for a living instead of rewarding them with free handouts perhaps someone of color would end up getting the nobel prize.


Jeez, what a wank*r!
snoosebaum
1 / 5 (2) Oct 09, 2018
a number of Indians have won , not black enough ? Or maybe one can just decide that they are black like chooising their gender for the day.
aksdad
1 / 5 (1) Oct 09, 2018
The Nobel prize committee is Swedish. Maybe they're racist. The Nobel Peace Prize committee is Norwegian. Maybe they're less racist. :-)
mqr
3 / 5 (2) Oct 09, 2018
Black people has won the nobel prize, but in areas considered ''not so relevant'' like peace and literature .... lol

No, I did not forget the invasion of the british to India. That is a special piece. They beheded monks that were practicing meditation. Really hard to pass. Hilarious to read Winston Churchill believing himself as ''superior''..... like the ''hate-the-public-ans'' politicians of the dying empire of today..... they are completely unable to see themselves in the moral mirror. bannon think of himself a darth vader..... one does not know if laugh or cry... he is more an anti Christ figure, planting hatred, putting others down, so he can feel good.... you know, just the old planting hatred, misery, sadness,....
Anonym518498
1 / 5 (2) Oct 09, 2018
More racist politically correct quota-loving stalinist rhetoric
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (2) Oct 09, 2018
Kind of funny.... typical of white supremacists.... or should we call them white victims?

How is talking of receiving FREE handouts?????? you used people for slavery, invaded their nations and murdered by millions to take their land, to steal gold, food and rape women. Where? it is better to start with the opposite question, where don't???? or I am creating facts????? do you remember the slavery of black people by americans, spaniards, etc? do you remember the invasion of America and Africa by white europeans????

Nope... Don't remember it... Cuz most of us (minus those of us that are over 150 years old) weren't there...
I do remember reading somewhere that a large of those slaves brought to the New World, were purchased from fellow African tribes...
My preferred white contribution is child pornography.... because it is a creation of white males that shows their high ethical standards....

Sorry, snookie. Child pornography has been around for 1000s of years...
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (2) Oct 09, 2018
Kind of funny.... typical of white supremacists.... or should we call them white victims?

Go ahead, pack, travel and murder, rape and invade and call yourself ''a conqueror, a warrior, an elite special force''

What's funny is the faux hateful rage with which you attempt to dissuade hate...
And like most blowhards, you fail to address the real problem(s) facing the planet NOW, not 150 yrs ago...
Doug_Nightmare
3 / 5 (2) Oct 10, 2018
"More racist politically correct quota-loving stalinist rhetoric."

You are mistaken. Rhetoric is dialogue seeking truth. Eristic seeks to defeat the opponent regardless of Truth. When "rhetoric" is spat, one properly means eristic.

Eristic is at the root of contemporary dire straits. Feel the hate, learn it, love it, live it.
TheGhostofOtto1923
4 / 5 (4) Oct 10, 2018
How is talking of receiving FREE handouts?????? you used people for slavery, invaded their nations and murdered by millions to take their land, to steal gold, food and rape women
You mean like the Zulu did to the khoisan? Or the iroquois did to the huron? Or the muslim slave traders did throughout the mediterranean?

"between 1530 and 1780 there were almost certainly a million and quite possibly as many as a million and a quarter white, European Christians enslaved by the Muslims of the Barbary Coast,"

The white male US navy destroyed the muslim barbary pirates in north africa and ended their slave trade.

You're an ignorant bigot. Yes you are.
Puzzled
2.5 / 5 (2) Oct 10, 2018
How is talking of receiving FREE handouts?????? you used people for slavery, invaded their nations and murdered by millions to take their land, to steal gold, food and rape women
You mean like the Zulu did to the khoisan? Or the iroquois did to the huron? Or the muslim slave traders did throughout the mediterranean?

"between 1530 and 1780 there were almost certainly a million and quite possibly as many as a million and a quarter white, European Christians enslaved by the Muslims of the Barbary Coast,"

The white male US navy destroyed the muslim barbary pirates in north africa and ended their slave trade.

You're an ignorant bigot. Yes you are.


Or the millions of slaves the Muslims (Turks, Tatars and Mongols) took in Eastern Europe.
TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (1) Oct 11, 2018
Or the millions of slaves the Muslims (Turks, Tatars and Mongols) took in Eastern Europe
Or even Africans enslaving Africans, which the euros merely purchased?

"Systems of servitude and slavery were common in parts of Africa, as they were in much of the ancient world."

"While Europeans did engage in some slave raiding, the majority of people who were transported to the Americas were enslaved by other Africans. It is important to understand that Europeans were incapable, on their own, of kidnapping 20 million Africans."

Excess people is the result of our propensity to overpopulate. Wise chieftains would sell off their excess rather try to feed them or prevent them from killing each other over food and repro rights.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (2) Oct 11, 2018
Slavery in its crassest form could be seen as a way of efficiently moving people from where they werent needed, to locations where they were. From liabilities to assets.

As far as paying them beyond room and board, did they earn wages where they came from? Did they have the freedom to leave the village or tribe and go off on their own, at the mercy of hostile neighbors and an unforgiving environment?

What they did lose was repro rights, usually. But it was unrestricted reproducing that created them and turned them into commodities.

Slavery is only one of the many ills created by overpopulation and it is certainly not the worst.
MR166
3 / 5 (2) Oct 11, 2018
Divide and conquer-------everyone is a victim except white males. Disagree and your are a hater. Here in the US the aim is to create unrest and ultimately a civil war by dividing the country into separate groups. Just yesterday Hillary Clinton said that Democrats should publicly harass conservatives until the Democrats regain power.

Isn't there some sort of law that prohibits people from encouraging anarchy?

For an ex Secretary of State to make a statement like that shows real hatred of our system of government.
MR166
3 / 5 (2) Oct 11, 2018
The article makes a point of highlighting the success the Asians in the granting of Noble prizes. The author attributes this to economic and political power. What total B.S.!!!!!

Culture plays a huge part. Here in the US success is based mostly on aptitude, sacrifice and a willingness work hard.
TrollBane
3 / 5 (2) Oct 12, 2018
MR166: "Here in the US success is based mostly on aptitude, sacrifice and a willingness work hard." Ahahahaha.... Nothing about millions in 'seed money' from daddy to build on land pilfered from the original inhabitants? Oh go cry me a trail of tears...
MR166
1 / 5 (1) Oct 12, 2018
Troll virtually all of the land on earth was "Taken" from someone. That is part of the makeup of man. The US is the most entrepreneurial friendly place on earth and capitalism is the only proven successful financial system.

Pure Socialism, in practice, devolves into authoritarianism and governmental oppression given enough time since the collective intelligence of the people is replace with bureaucratic intelligence.
MR166
1 / 5 (1) Oct 12, 2018
One of the prime tenets held by the progressives/socialists is that the people in power can make better decisions for society than the collective wisdom of the society itself.

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