Jews Constitute High Percentage Among Young American Scientists

An “extraordinarily high percentage” of young American scientists come from Jewish homes, a survey conducted by Fortune, one of America’s leading magazines, has established.

The survey, carried out among 87 outstanding young scientists who distinguished themselves in nuclear physics as well as in other branches of science, shows that 29 percent of them are Jews, 53 percent are Protestants, 5 percent are Catholics, while the remainder come from homes where the parents have no religious affiliation or are atheistic.

Jewish scientists also constitute about 30 percent among twenty of the leading young scientists engaged in important scientific work for the General Electric, Bell Telephone Laboratories, and other American industrial enterprises, the survey established.

Named among them is, Joshua Lederberg, 29, the son of a rabbi; Henry Hurwitzj, 35, son of the editor of the Menorah Journal whom Fortune calls “probably the most brilliant student of nuclear-reactor theory in industry;” Julian Schwinger, son of a dress manufacturer, and Richard Feynman, son of a sales manager, both physicists who were born in New York. Fortune says Schwinger and Feynman are considered “the top theoreticians of their generation.”

The survey also established that although the parents of the Jewish scientists gave their religion as Jewish, only nine percent of the young Jewish scientists professed the Jewish religion. Among the Protestants only 23 percent professed their religion as compared with 53 percent of their parents. Among the young Catholic scientists none wanted to profess their religious beliefs.

On the basis of these figures, the Fortune survey comes to the conclusion that there is a general loss of faith among young scientists in this country regardless of their religious background. Forty-five percent of the young scientists declared themselves agnostics or atheists, and twenty-two percent said they are religious, but are not affiliated with any religion.

The percentage of scientists from Jewish families varied considerably in the several fields of science, the Fortune report says. In biology and medical research it was 52 percent, physics 18 percent, psychology 17 percent; and in astronomy and meteorology zero.

“To account for these statistics one can only hypothesize,” Fortune states. “For example, the disproportionately high percentage of outstanding scientists with Jewish backgrounds might be explained by the scholarly tradition frequently observed among Jews. The absence of an equivalent scholarly tradition in a high percentage of American Catholic families might also explain, to a degree, the near absence of Catholic-born scientists in the survey group.”

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