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We’re number one?

An indicator that may or may not mean anything: Four of this year’s six Nobel Prizes have been awarded–and all have been won by Americans. Andrew Fire and Craig Mello won in medicine, for discovering a mechanism to control the flow of genetic information. John Mather and George Smoot (no, not that Smoot) took the physics prize for discoveries supporting the Big Bang theory. Roger Kornberg won in chemistry, for resolving the machinery that gives voice to DNA. And yesterday, Edmund Phelps of Columbia University grabbed our favorite Nobel, in economics, for work assessing the tradeoffs between economic objectives. (The remaining prizes, for literature and peace, will be announced Thursday and Friday.)

So, here’s the question. We worry a lot about the migration of creativity leadership overseas. Increasingly, we report, it’s Chinese and Indian researchers who are driving the frontiers of innovation–a pretty good predictor, one would think, of long-term economic competitive advantage.

Well, the Americans have scored all the hardware this year. Does that count for anything? Or are we looking at a lagging indicator, sort of a lifetime achievement award for past innovation greatness?

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