Secular Right | Reality & Reason



Ice People Club

Is there, as some commentators have claimed, affirmative action at work in the awarding of Nobel Prizes?

If there is, it has been almost entirely restricted to the Peace Prize in recent years. The Nobel Committee publishes a year-by-year list of winners, with photographs and clues to nationality, here. Scanning back through the last ten years, I get the following headcounts.

I have used the Ice People / Sun People schema of We Are Doomed, with Europeans and East Asians as Ice People, Africans and Amerindians as Sun People. Subcontinental Asians I have cut crudely, with Moslems as honorary Sun People and non-Muslims as honorary Ice People. It’s a fair balance, I think, and doesn’t actually make much difference to the numbers.

Here we go. For each year I list the six Nobel categories in order:  Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, Literature, Peace, and Economics. The score in each box is Ice People / Sun People, so “2-0” means two Ice People and no Sun People.

Year Phys Chem Med Lit Peace Econ
2009 3-0 3-0 3-0 1-0 0-1 TBA
2008 3-0 3-0 3-0 1-0 1-0 1-0
2007 2-0 1-0 3-0 1-0 1-0 3-0
2006 2-0 1-0 2-0 1-0 0-1 1-0
2005 3-0 3-0 3-0 1-0 0-1 2-0
2004 3-0 3-0 2-0 1-0 0-1 2-0
2003 3-0 2-0 2-0 1-0 0-1 2-0
2002 3-0 3-0 3-0 1-0 1-0 1-0
2001 3-0 3-0 3-0 1-0 0-1 3-0
2000 3-0 3-0 3-0 1-0 1-0 2-0

That gives us totals of 28-0 for Physics, 25-0 for Chemistry, 27-0 for Medicine, 10-0 for Literature, 4-6 for Peace, 17-0 for Economics.

There are some gray patches. The guy from Mauritius may be a Muslim, for all I know — one-sixth of Mauritians are. It doesn’t make much difference. The Nobel Prize looks awfully like an Ice People club, and those earnest Scandinavians feel terrible about it.

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  • Randall Parker · October 12, 2009 at 5:21 pm

    Getting back to Derb’s post topic: Is he inaccurate?

  • sbron · October 13, 2009 at 3:15 pm

    A large proportion of the Physics/Chemistry laureates are/were
    Jewish. However, until some point in the 70s or 80s, I would say a typical Ice Person did not consider a Jew to be an Ice Person (i.e. not Nordic, Anglo-Saxon whatever.) Similarly, Chinese were considered racial inferiors in the US during the 19th century. I think the concept of “Ice Person”, like the concept of “White” has been expanding radically in the last 30 years or so to include anyone from an ethnic/religious/racial group that is successful from an economic and academic standpoint. The problem with this is that “Sun People” end up celebrating dysfunctionality in order to remain pure, e.g. by avoiding “acting white”.

    Maybe the correct classification is “Progressive” versus “Stagnant” except that progressive has been co-opted by the far left.

  • Mark in Spokane · October 13, 2009 at 6:51 pm

    A question regarding Mr. Derbyshire’s classification scheme. Are Filipinos considered Asian (and thus “ice people”) or do they fit more properly within the “sun people” category? While ethnically Asian (and in fact with a large Chinese population), the Philippines also has a culture that is largely shaped by Spanish Catholicism.

  • Ron Guhname · October 14, 2009 at 12:32 pm

    Don’t you love helpful people? I read the post and assumed it was about the question of affirmative action in awarding Nobel Prizes. Then I see that there are 53 total comments, 15 of which are by someone interested in Derbyshire’s job title.

    I see I’m citing numbers. Let me by clear–I am NOT a mathematician.

  • Matt Springer · October 15, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    A few points from Abe’s original doofus post require response:

    “It bothers him that he isn’t smart enough to do original research in math (or, even, attain a Ph.D.) Yet, he uses the fact that he studied mathematics to give a scientific veneer to his nonsense. His IQ is significantly lower than that of the faculty in math departments across the country.”

    1) Raw intelligence is necessary but not sufficient to do original research in math. It requires a certain cast of mind that’s somewhat orthogonal to intelligence. To put it bluntly, you have to be a particular kind of weird.

    2) If Derb’s IQ is south of the 99th percentile I’d be stunned. I would not at all be surprised if it were comparable to your average math professor; simply lacking that certain weirdness to be one of them.

    3) I also do pop-math writing without having a math Ph.D., so feel free to dismiss all of the above.

  • abe · October 17, 2009 at 1:05 am

    1. Derb likes to pretend he has that particular kind of weird in order to signal intelligence he doesn’t have.

    2. Just because you write about intelligence and superficially cover scientific issues doesn’t mean you’re mentally gifted in an extraordinary way, if at all.

    3. But do you pretend to be a mathematician?

  • steve burton · October 18, 2009 at 2:33 pm

    dear abe:

    Hope you won’t mind if I use this thread as a humorous example in my next class on informal logic. It can be a rather dry subject, and I find that dramatic readings of the sort of hilariously aggressive & prolonged exercises in the *ad hominem* fallacy that one encounters so often on the internet can lighten the mood considerably.

    True, you will come off looking like a pathetic git. But it’s all in a good cause.

  • Bert · October 18, 2009 at 11:46 pm

    How is Obama a Sun person? He’s half Ice, half Sun, and since he lives in an Ice country, the balance should tilt to Ice.

  • Author comment by Bradlaugh · October 19, 2009 at 3:46 am

    I don’t even know why I’m bothering with this guy, but since he asked: “do you pretend to be a mathematician?”, here’s something I posted on the topic on NRO back in 2002:

    I’m not actually any good at math, would never have made any kind of a mathematician, and am blankly ignorant of large areas of the subject. (As, to be fair to myself, are many mathematicians. It’s an awfully big subject. The last person who knew it all was probably Gauss, who died in 1855.) I think of my relationship to math as a kind of unrequited love affair: I love math, but math doesn’t love me. I got a bachelor’s degree in the subject from an excellent English university, but it was a class three degree, and there are only three classes. I realized right then that I wasn’t going to make any kind of living out of math, and went off to do other things instead.

    Over to you there, Abe.

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