Microbiologists with British and German names predominate conspicuously. Clearly, this is related to the present dominant position of the USA and the English language in science,5,8
but calls for more explanations. They must be sought in history and society. Assuming that all peoples are equal with respect to intelligence, what happened? I have only partial answers .
(1) Immigration to the USA is certainly one of the answers. According to a census from 2000, 37% of US citizens were of German, British, or Irish descent (15.2, 11 and 10.8%, respectively).11
This correlates quite well with the phage statistics of . The British name group may be artificially inflated, including immigrants who anglicized themselves and Afro-American slaves with British names. Germans arrived in large numbers in several waves, for example after the failure of the 1848 revolution. Overall, German immigrants predominated from 1820 to 1978. People of German descent are also very common in Pennsylvania, the site of several important US universities. A wave of German scientists emigrated to the US and Australia around 1950–1955 when the outlook for German science was notoriously poor. I recall that there was no funding and that universities were paralyzed by ultra-leftists. The case of Irish scientists is particularly interesting. In the 19th century, the Irish population was in a dire situation and large numbers of people fled to the US and Canada to escape poverty, famine, and oppression. By contrast, there are now hundreds of phage scientists with Irish names in North America.
(2) Historical factors are also conspicuous in the cases of India, China, Japan, and South Korea. Both India and China have become research powerhouses, expanding substantially their scientific output in the past 10 y.12,13
The rise of Asian scientists is very evident in, for example, “Archives in Virology” and “Virological Journal.” Further, in visiting India two years ago, I found that scientific bookstores carry large numbers of books on biochemistry, microbiology, and genetics, written by Indian scientists and published in India. If Indian and Chinese scientists are now prominent in phage research, this was not always so. Indeed, the first phage bibliography by Raettig1
lists only 24 Indian and 12 Chinese first authors for the years of 1917 to 1956 (Ackermann, unpublished).
(a) The primary cause for the emergence of India must be its political independence in 1947. From then, on Indians developed universities, libraries, and research institutions.
(b) China always had a distinguished history of research and innovation. For a time, Chinese scientists almost disappeared from phage research, but are now back in force. Part of their publications may emanate from the US, Singapore or Taiwan, but most are now from Mainland China. The principal reason seems to be political and, specifically, the demise of Maoism. Mainland China started economic reforms in 1978 with the results that it has now the second-largest economy after the US. Scientists are no longer sent to reeducation, no longer have to apologize for “bourgois individualism,” but receive funds and are now publishing on a grand scale.
(c) Japan was always active in phage research. Japanese researchers accounted for 6.5% of phage scientists in 1917–1957.1
This was a consequence of the Meiji restoration in 1867 (Meiji meaning “enlightened rule” in Japanese) and the towering personality of emperor Mutsohito (1852–1912), called the Great. It changed Japan from a feudal state to a market economy and introduced Western science to Japan. Fortunately, this coincided with the emergence of microbiology in Europe. We may remember from these times the names of the great Japanese microbiologists, Kitasato and Noguchi. The historic factor is thus represented by the Government and even a single individual, the emperor of Japan.
(d) Korea was virtually absent from phage research before 1956. First subjected to Japanese occupation and badly destroyed during the Korean war, it could not engage in science. When I visited Seoul in 1985, universities were racked by student strife and nothing indicated that South Korea could be anything else than an intellectual backwater. This has changed very much. We now see a surge in the numbers of South Korean scientists. By contrast, virtually no phage publication has appeared from North Korea.
(3) Jewish scientists were always prominent in phage research (and perhaps all of virology). Vol. II of the first Raettig bibliography1
shows that at least 6.5% of phage publications in 1917–56 originated from Jewish scientists (Ackermann H.-W., unpublished). Their contribution is now around 4% (), to which one must add the very important research effort of Israel. The most likely explanation for this high incidence is sociological. Throughout history, Jews always valued education and learning. I suspect that they also put pressure on their youngsters (“you, my little guy, you will pass your exams or else”). In Germany, this meant that many Jews became highly educated and part of the so-called “Bildungsbürgertum,” that is “knowledge-bourgeoisie.” Considering that many Jewish scientists cannot be identified by their surnames (it has been quipped that “a Jew is someone who says that he or she is a Jew”), the contribution of Jewish scientists to phage research is likely to be much higher than evident in .
(4) Arabic and, more generally, Muslim countries participate little in phage research. Moreover, a number of scientists with Arab or Iranian names are expatriates and work (or worked) in the West. This has no religious connotations as scientists with Arabic names may be Copts or Lebanese Christians. As reported in a recent, detailed study on medical research,9
the most productive Islamic countries are Turkey and Iran, whereas large, populous countries such as Pakistan and Indonesia are essentially inactive in research. Given the great historical role of Islamic scientists in preserving and advancing science during the Middle Ages and the deep respect for knowledge that I saw myself in Islamic countries, this is quite incomprehensible. How did this happen? A superficial investigation on the Net shows (a) frequent referral to the past, Scripture and religious authorities, and (b) very critical papers, all by Islamic authors, which recuse the role of religion in science.14-16
This debate underlines how much science depends on humans.
(5) It is heartening so see that people from various African countries have now moved into phage research. One can only hope that this continues. Phage research is not only big-ticket science linked to expensive instruments (e.g., electron microscopes) or DNA sequencing. Indeed, much is to be gained by investigating relatively inexpensive subjects like ecology and phage therapy.
(6) Ultimately, the relative frequency of Irish and Jewish scientists and the rise of phage research in Japan, China and India, all due to historic and societal circumstances, are difficult to explain by the structural and numerical theories on the advancement of science,6
but are in agreement with or confirm Merten's cultural theory.6