Saturday, October 10, 2009

Nobel Prizes 2009

One of the most striking things about this year's Nobel Prizes is that many of the awardees are foreign-born Americans.

For the Nobel in Medicine or Physiology, Elizabeth H. Blackburn was originally from Australia and Jack W. Szostak was born in London. The third winner, Carol W. Greider, a native American, nevertheless trained under Blackburn as a graduate student.

For the Nobel in Physics, Charles K. Kao was born in Shanghai but holds dual British and American citizenship. William S. Boyle holds dual Canadian and American citizenship. The last winner is George E. Smith, who is American.

For the Nobel in Chemistry, Venkatraman Ramakrishnan was born in India but holds American citizenship. Of the two other winners, one is an Israeli woman and the other a native American.

For the Nobel Peace Prize, while Barack Obama is a native American, his father is Kenyan. So he is born of immigrant blood as well.

The prizewinner for the Nobel in Economics for 2009 has yet to be announced.

I think it's only going to be a matter of time before some schmuck of a local politician brings up the Nobel Prizes of 2009 as an argument for a pro-foreign talent policy in Singapore (and if such a politician does do so, remember, you read it here first).

I won't be criticizing our "FT" policy in this blog. There is ample material out there in other Singapore blogs excoriating this policy.

I shall simply point out that the foreign-born American Nobel prizewinners of 2009 are all naturalized American citizens, indicating that they are well-integrated into American society. This is something that I think no one in Singapore can claim has happened to an appreciable extent in our own country. Citizenship take-up rates are low; they are even lower when compared to take-up rates for permanent residency, which indicates foreigners are interested in the perks of living here, but not the responsibilities or rights. [You could hardly blame them: the right to vote is the most fundamental and valuable right of a citizen, and most native Singaporean citizens have never had the opportunity to exercise it, so why bother taking up citizenship?]

Secondly, the United States of America allow dual citizenship with a number of other countries (the UK, Australia and Canada). Many of the naturalized American Nobel winners hold dual citizenship. That is probably no small matter in persuading them to take up American citizenship. The last I checked, Singapore doesn't permit dual citizenship of any kind.

So if the next time some guy dressed in white holds up the Nobel prizewinners of 2009 as an example of the wonders of foreign talent, you know what a spurious argument that is.

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