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‘No bell’ is the way to the Nobel Prize

Posted October. 29, 2019 09:13,   

Updated October. 29, 2019 09:13


In every October, the Nobel Prize announces the winners for the year. This year, yet again, Korea was sitting in the audience applauding while Japan, our neighbor, grabbed the prize for two years in a row. Naturally, this was brought up during the national audit of Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST). The discussion, as you might have already guessed, centered around why there is no Korean Nobel laureate. A representative, who served as a minister in a previous government, blamed a lack of efforts by scientists and their wrong mindset saying that their main focus is on how to become an administrator, not on producing great research results.

KIST is a proud institution that believes it has greatly contributed to the development of science in this country. You might wonder what their reaction was. Simply put, it was “mind your own business.” They argue no scientist would want to focus on their research with this many regulations, extremely low budget and little independence.

Korean scientists jokingly say that “no bell” would pave the way for Nobel. The government does not allow enough time and funding but constantly rings the bell to check the progress. If you press the call bell in a restaurant too many times, it would annoy the server instead of improving the service. The same logic applies here.

Jews have won the largest number of Nobel Prizes with 20~22 percent of Nobel laureates being Jewish, and the number goes up to a staggering 40 percent if we only count the Nobel Prize winners in Economics. This is a remarkable achievement considering that the Jewish population is approximately 15 million, comprising only 0.2 percent of the global population. Before grilling scientists about the lack of the Korean Nobel Prize winner, politicians should first look at why Jewish people are sweeping the Nobel Prizes and find out what we are missing.

The secret to a high number of Jewish Nobel laureates is nothing but education - not any education but creative education. Koreans and Jews have widely different views of creativity. We put a great emphasis on “outdoing others” while they focus on being “different from others.” Jewish people try to find what is unique about themselves and nurture it, which explains why there are so many Jews on top despite having a small population. If everyone in a class of 30 students races towards the same goal just trying to do better than others, there can be only one winner. However, if all of them have their own race and goals, everyone can be a winner.

Jews have received multiple Nobel Prizes in Economics, and for good reasons. They have a positive relationship with money. Having no country, they had to migrate for thousands of years. As a result, the beliefs that “money saves life” and “money talks” are deeply ingrained in them. They also have a keen interest in economics as they value money, which offers a clue to why there are many wealthy Jews in the financial sector.

There is no such thing as a free lunch. If you want a Nobel Prize, you need to make an investment. To be jealous is to lose.

Eun-Taek Lee nabi@donga.com