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Nobel Winners Illustrate Israel's "Brain Drain" 214

Posted by timothy
from the various-brains-various-drains dept.
barlevg writes "Two of the three scientists sharing this year's Nobel Prize in Chemistry have Israeli citizenship, with Dr. Arieh Warshel having been born and educated in Israel, yet both are based at universities in the United States. These two scientists are perhaps the highest profile examples of a growing problem in the so-called "start-up nation," which is known for its high-tech tech companies and scientific innovation, and yet which loses more researchers to emigration than any other western nation. The problem? Large salary gaps between US and Israeli institutions. As Daniel Hershkowitz, president of Bar-Ilan University put it, 'I don't see Israel being able to compete with what they offer in the United States.'"
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Nobel Winners Illustrate Israel's "Brain Drain"

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  • by j-beda (85386) on Saturday October 12, 2013 @12:04AM (#45107023) Homepage

    "The problem? Large salary gaps between US and Israeli institutions. "

    Nothing to do with the social/political situation in the middle east? I know the USA social and political situation is kind of crazy, but it seems to be a bit saner at the level of organized groups trying to kick each other off this or that piece of land. I suspect that this has at least SOME effect on people's decisions to emigrate.

    • by mi (197448) <slashdot-2014@virtual-estates.net> on Saturday October 12, 2013 @12:28AM (#45107101) Homepage

      Nothing to do with the social/political situation in the middle east?

      Only indirectly — having to spend so much time, money, and effort on national defense is hard economically for a tiny country. Despite all the help from the US, it is still a heavy burden on the economy.

      • by gl4ss (559668)

        ..you mean to say that directly it doesn't affect the motivation of people to stay in a country with instability all around?

        btw it's only hard economically if you need to have walls on every border and expect an attack all the time, while occupying parts of your neighbors..

        (but the US is a great display of how it can be hard on the economy even for a big country so...)

        • by mi (197448)

          ..you mean to say that directly it doesn't affect the motivation of people to stay in a country with instability all around?

          The two Israelis I personally know, who immigrated to the US, are quite patriotic and eager to defend their country. Both served in the military and one actually participated in live shooting. They were sad to move, but the opportunities offered to them were too enticing (both were scientist-engineers married to lovely scientist ladies)...

          while occupying parts of your neighbors...

          Plea

      • by dbIII (701233)
        That's the price of going to war every time there is an election looming. Even with a shooting fish in a barrel approach at Gaza it's still not exactly cheap.
        • by mi (197448)

          That's the price of going to war every time there is an election looming.

          Whatever your allegations of special timings (and you don't cite anything to demonstrate the correlation), the actual cost of a flare-up is not that high. What is truly expensive is maintaining readiness for such a flare-up at any moment year after year...

          • by dbIII (701233)
            Are you really so lazy that I have to cite major military operations that were mentioned in nearly every major newspaper on the planet? Twice may have been coincidence, after that it was a very obvious election strategy to get people to vote for the sort of people that the founders of Israel set up a country to get away from.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Actually, I would say that socially people are much warmer in the Middle-East (the kind of thing the media wouldn't cover) and it's one thing you'd actually lose out by moving to North America.

      • Yeah, they are much warmer. They invite their neighbours over for some rockets, or a helicopter attack. Or they assume they can build on their neighbours land. the USA may be not the warmest place socially, but the Middle East isn't that friendly either.
      • Warmer? (Score:4, Funny)

        by Phoenix666 (184391) on Saturday October 12, 2013 @09:23AM (#45108313)

        I guess you haven't heard the joke:

        A journalist asked a Russian, American, and Israeli, "Can you please give us your opinion on the food shortage?"

        The Russian replied, "What is an 'opinion'?"

        The American replied, "What is a 'shortage'?"

        The Israeli replied, "What is 'please'?"

      • by evilviper (135110)

        Actually, I would say that socially people are much warmer in the Middle-East [...] you lose out by moving to North America.

        "North America" is an awfully big place... Certainly bigger than all of the "Middle-East". Are you suggesting that ALL of the Middle-East is a warm and friendly place, and that ALL of North-America is not?

        Certainly Canada, and most of the northern US is known for being pretty warm and friendly, while New York is... not.

    • by Smauler (915644) on Saturday October 12, 2013 @12:56AM (#45107167)

      The middle east is a big place, and the social/political situation is radically different in different places. Israel is currently much safer than it has been for a while.

      I grew up in Oman as a kid, and couldn't ask for a more stable and good place to grow up. Though we lived in housing for us, it ended at the bottom of our road, and I used to leave and run about building sites and play with the locals lots.

    • I agree (Israeli) (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 12, 2013 @02:04AM (#45107275)

      I tend to agree, this is one of the biggest issues for me personally. There are quite a few other issues such as orthodocs Jews political influence and the fact that there are limited opportunities due to the small size of the country.

      But overall the tech industry is pretty much entirely in Tel Aviv/Hertzelia areas (with limited niches in Haifa and even less in Jerusalem). If you look at the voting record the Tel Aviv/Hertzelia area is remarkably left wing liberal (against occupation) while the rest of the country is the exact polar opposite. This generally means the brains (and financial growth) are most likely liberals.

      I wanted to immigrate myself but without a foreign nationality starting from scratch is really hard, plus my aging mother is also an anchor. I plan to do it immediately when opportunity presents itself.

    • by golodh (893453) on Saturday October 12, 2013 @04:23AM (#45107515)
      Israel's brain drain is serious but it is also one of its life-lines. Whether it appreciates this or not. The constant stream of people traveling between Israel and the West is one of the things that maintain Israel's ties to the US and Europe.

      As everywhere in the world the dominant language of discourse in science and engineering is English, and US universities continue to dominate the lists of best and most influential institutions of learning.

      If you look around at MIT you will note that 50%-60% of the PhD. students are from abroad. And when they get their degree, they see all kinds of attractive job opportunities right where they live. From start-ups to established companies. And yes, it's one of the ways in which the US attracts talent. It out-competes almost everyone else by offering top-notch education, top-notch research, and top-notch jobs. And that isn't about to change (barring short-sighted politics such as de-funding research).

      But perhaps the most important of all: the US really does offer anyone a chance to earn their way solely on personal merit. And that's something very precious that's not available in many other countries where "who you know" counts for more than "what you know".

      So yes, there is a tremendous pull. But before you bemoan the big bad US of A luring away all the talent, please realize that there is also (in the case of Israel) a substantial push.

      Good friends of mine made Aliyah to Israel about 30 years ago. They were well-educated (an economist and a psychologist) learned Hebrew, did their Miluim (military service), one as a private the other as an officer, and found careers in Tel-Aviv.

      What they saw around 15 years ago was a country that increasingly transformed itself from a Western country to a Middle Eastern country. Political polarization, rise of religious ultra-orthodoxy, privileges for religious people (e.g. Torah students exempt from the same military service that takes about a month per year from others), .

      What they also saw was a country that was basically unwilling to reach a sustainable accommodation with the Palestinians despite the demographic, economic, legal, and humanitarian issues. They felt the consequences of that in person when their reserve army duties took them to e.g. the Gaza strip where they, in army uniform and armed, would have to face off against 16-18 year old Palestinian protestors / rioters and wield batons (or worse) against people who had no education to speak of, almost no wealth, no opportunities or prospects worth mentioning, no realistic way out, and no serious hopes for improvement. If that were a transitional phase, it would be bearable, but was it? It didn't look that way and it still doesn't.

      Attempts to persuade the political majority to reach a sustainable settlement did not succeed (if there were any easy and simple solutions they would have been embraced long ago) and indeed a sustainable settlement seemed drifting further away all the time with the (in part religiously motivated) Eretz Israel (Big Israel) idea.

      So they were left with the prospect of staying in an intransigent, polarizing and increasingly besieged country where their children would face the same difficulties, only worse, and without the frictionless alternative of having a double passport.

      So they decided to leave and they are not alone. Obviously that segment of the population with the most portable assets (intellect) has the best prospects of leaving.

      That's the "push" part of the equation.

      So, yes, there's brain-drain but a lively exchange of people and ideas is (as I see it) needed for Israel's mental health. Also there are reasons for the brain-drain that have little to do with big bad US gobbling up all the talent.

      • by nbauman (624611) on Saturday October 12, 2013 @09:31AM (#45108347) Homepage Journal

        But perhaps the most important of all: the US really does offer anyone a chance to earn their way solely on personal merit. And that's something very precious that's not available in many other countries where "who you know" counts for more than "what you know".

        I'll disagree with you on that. There's a lot of economic and sociological literature that says that the U.S. has among the worst social mobility of any country in the world, along with the U.K. A son's income correlates more strongly with his father's income in the U.S. and U.K. than any other developed country. Excuse me for not looking up a citation, but I was particularly impressed by a few articles in Science about that.

        This is in contrast, of course, to the myth that we have more opportunity and social mobility in the U.S. There are a few examples like Andrew Carnegie getting off the boat barefoot, but the typical situation is that children follow the family business.

        There are many interesting reasons to perpetuate that myth. A lot of Americans like to say, "I made it on my own," but if you probe a little they say, "Yes, my father helped me out, but I made it on my own."

        • by femtobyte (710429) on Saturday October 12, 2013 @12:16PM (#45109211)

          For US society as a whole, social mobility is documented to be abysmally low. However, academia in the US is perhaps one exception to that --- places where people are doing the kinds of research likely to win Nobel Prizes are typically not run on the megacorporate model that dominates the rest of US society. Success in research does not generally come from being golfing buddies with some multi-millionaire executive, but from actually being good at what you do. Granted, there has been a move in recent decades to transition universities to "run like a business" models, with high-paid management and disposable research labor, which is likely to result in US academia moving towards the much less meritocratic state of broader US society.

          • by nbauman (624611) on Saturday October 12, 2013 @12:49PM (#45109443) Homepage Journal

            For US society as a whole, social mobility is documented to be abysmally low. However, academia in the US is perhaps one exception to that --- places where people are doing the kinds of research likely to win Nobel Prizes are typically not run on the megacorporate model that dominates the rest of US society. Success in research does not generally come from being golfing buddies with some multi-millionaire executive, but from actually being good at what you do.

            There have been studies of Nobel laureates, and Science had a News & Comments story on how they became Nobel laureates and what kind of background they came from. Unsurprisingly, they overwhelmingly came from wealthy, privileged families who were already accomplished in science. Arthur Kornberg was a Nobel laureate; his son Roger was also a Nobel laureate.

            That just makes sense, and it's not necessarily bad. I had a friend whose father was a professor, and I learned more sitting around their dinner table than I did from his classes.

            OTOH, if you come from a socially and economically deprived background, the barriers are overwhelming. http://www.ronsuskind.com/articles/000034.html [ronsuskind.com] http://www.ronsuskind.com/articles/000035.html [ronsuskind.com] One of the markers for social mobility is the number of black people I see. I go to medical conferences, and the number of black faces are few and far between. (It seems to be a little better in chemical engineering.)

            Scientists would like to believe that they get ahead on merit, for the same reason that billionaires like to believe they got ahead on merit. But having a father who is a scientist is the strongest determinant of whether a son becomes a scientist.

            • by femtobyte (710429)

              You're right; I should have specified that access to academic meritocracy only occurs after you've gotten "into the system." Coming from a wealthier, well-educated family lets you get a decent primary and undergraduate education, which is a major obstacle facing a large portion of the population not given that opportunity (in common with all of US society). However, once you're in grad school and above, you're generally considered by the quality of your work, not the wealth/connections/lineage you and your

        • by golodh (893453)
          Allow me to respond to that.

          First off, I'll have to acknowledge that you have a point. Social mobility in the US and the UK is relatively low when compared with other Western countries (see e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_mobility [wikipedia.org] ). I should have looked at this before I wrote what I did, but I didn't.

          However ... and this is a really major "however" for many if not most students who are from India, Pakistan, Bangla-Desh, Malaysia, and parts of Afrika. In the US nobody asks you what tribe you're

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Saturday October 12, 2013 @12:22AM (#45107083) Journal
    TFA mentioned 'large salary gaps' as a problem in certain areas (like finance); but other factors in areas like the sciences (a successful academic career isn't penury; but the cash per unit effort and talent is kind of mediocre).

    Particularly for the scientists and other less-likely-to-be-salary-motivated types, I have to wonder if it suggests that the quality of life, at least for people of the class who have options, that a small country in a mostly-hostile neighborhood can offer just isn't that high.

    In the US, for instance, there is a lot of migration, from state to state, or even within the larger states, that would count as 'brain drain' except that the US is huge so both the origin and the destination are American for accounting purposes.

    By area, Israel is just slightly larger than Massachusetts, which isn't exactly a big state(and, although it scores pretty well on academic opportunities, quality of life, etc. is hardly retains all the people born there, nor is it even imaginable how it could be world-class at enough things to do so, you can only fit so much, and there is plenty of competition with other virtues).
    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 12, 2013 @12:34AM (#45107117)

      There are plenty of good reasons to live here. Competition for academic jobs here is strong, despite the compensation. But the competition probably helps keep salaries low (although that's true everywhere).

      Whatever the reason, low academic compensation helps keep the risk costs low of doing something crazy like founding a startup. So it cuts both ways.

      In the meantime, all those drained brains keep contacts with home, meaning Israeli science keeps a higher level of contact with international academia, no bad thing in itself.

  • Simple Solution (Score:2, Flamebait)

    by pitchpipe (708843)
    Simple solution: pay your scientists/researchers more. It's only complicated when you have a Republican mindset that idealizes entrepreneurship and denigrates science.
    • by gtall (79522)

      Well, cut Republicans some slack. They cannot simply support science because it stops them from just making shit up...well, it doesn't stop them but it does hold up a competing standard.

  • Israel is not a Western nation. It's in the Middle East.
    • by top_down (137496)

      Western refers to culture, not to geography.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western [wikipedia.org]

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dbIII (701233)
      Of course it's "Western". They are moving the Indians to the reservations and then taking over the best parts of the reservations by force without even handing over a fistfull of dollars.
      • by PPH (736903)
        The only thing that is missing is a sound bite from Netanyahu, telling the Palestinians to "continue to endeavor to persevere."
  • a lot more then it is about salary, at least for university professors.
    For engeneirs it's more about cost of living and specifically cost of housing

  • Western? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Antonovich (1354565) on Saturday October 12, 2013 @02:39AM (#45107327)
    I'm not sure everyone would agree that Israel is a Western nation (not that there is anything wrong with not being Western!!!) but the brain drain in many, many places makes Israel's look pretty meagre. I once read that some of the top Indian publicly funded institutions had 90%+ emigration rates a few years after graduation. Coming from another brain-drain country (New Zealand), these facts ended up changing my view on publicly funded tertiary education - why should a plumber, who started working and paying taxes at 18, pay for me to get a high quality 6-year tertiary education if he is not going to see any benefit from that? Sure, were I to contribute back to society through higher (absolute) taxes, providing employment, leadership or even just being culturally more aware from my education, there is real justification... But I, like many others, simply left straight after 6 years at university to somewhere with more people, closer to "the action" (Europe/US/East Asia). Israel is certainly closer to Europe than NZ but political reasons make it even more isolated...
    • Re:Western? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Kjella (173770) on Saturday October 12, 2013 @04:20AM (#45107511) Homepage

      Depends on how much the brain drain is permanent, right after their degree I know many, many of my fellow students that were free as a bird and would jump at the opportunity to work abroad, international work experience, culture, language, seeing the world and so on. Then they think about starting a family and homesickness sets in like a homing beacon. It's one thing to travel around as a hired gun to the highest bidder, it's another to raise kids in a foreign culture. Grandparents want to see their grandchildren and so on. Of course there are two parents, maybe the compromise is neither or they both want to stay but if a fair percentage return home with foreign work experience it might pay off well. It shouldn't be ignored that if you have made decent money in the US you're a rich man in India if you choose to return there.

    • by evilviper (135110)

      I once read that some of the top Indian publicly funded institutions had 90%+ emigration rates a few years after graduation.

      India has serious cultural problems contributing to this. "Doctor" is just about the only respected & successful title there, so an inordinate portion of the population becomes MDs... FAR more doctors than could ever be needed in India. So instead they spread out all over the world, looking for work. That's the cause of the predominance of Indian doctors in the US and parts of

  • Where's the statistics that show this "brain drain"? Sure Israel has a high rate of emmigration, but that's because it also has a high rate of immigration, and a large fraction of dual citizenship holders. One of the Nobel Prize winners from TFS actually illustrates this perfectly. Dr. Levitt was born and raised outside of Israel, but is now a citizen and spends six months a year there (according to Wikipedia.) Counting people like him as "emmigrants" is very missledaing.

  • by Joining Yet Again (2992179) on Saturday October 12, 2013 @05:09AM (#45107563)

    It has very little to do with salary. Nobel-level researchers could earn a hundred times as much by going into banking, if that's what they wanted.

    It's about living environment, resources provided to academics, political outlook, and any number of things which normal people not simplifying humans to cogs in a machine use when deciding where to settle. America's response to technically brilliant (though rarely to socially brilliant) people has always been, "Sure, come here and we'll let you do your shit. What do you need? No problem."

  • This has been the U.S game for a long time, importing and collecting the intellectual resources of the world. And god knows they need it, we all know the sad state of U.S public education, and how colleges and universities to a significant degree seem to revolve around "getting wasted, bro", not to mention how American culture is excellent at keeping many Americans young, dumb, aggressive and ignorant. It would be interesting to know how the U.S would have fared had they not been fighting to attract the int
    • Nobody is making them come to the US. It is and has been since WWII the best place to live and work in technology and the sciences.

      By far.

      While the public schools have below average results as a whole, schools in affluent suburban areas, especially university towns are as good as any in the world. America is far more diverse than most nations, and that diversity accounts for a lot when it comes time to look at rankings in the education system.

      US research universities are absolutely world leading. Cal Tech w

  • by mrvan (973822) on Saturday October 12, 2013 @07:52AM (#45107957)

    I'm an academic and just returned from a sabattical in Jerusalem. I can imagine a lot more reasons for a bright scientist to emigrate than just salary:

    - Israel is still a very religious state, with e.g. no civil marriage (you marry before either the rabbi, the imam, the priest, etc, but no religion = no marriage and a mixed marriage means someone must convert). There is a minister of religious affairs and the state in waist-deep in a number of religious issues. Jewish religious schooling is mandatory in most schools. Citizenship is linked to religious/ethnic heritage.

    - Israel is a segragationist state, with a large part of its citizens treated as second class (palestinians, bedouin) and there are extremist groups that physically attack people and institutions who strive for more integration and dialogue (see: price tag attacks).

    - Israel is an occupying country, its army occupying a territory with over 4M people living in it. You cannot travel through Israel (much less live in it) without seeing the effects of this, in terms of checkpoints, barriers, and a general siege mentality in the population.

    - Israel is surrounded by countries that are either hostile, in a civil war, or both. Jordan is an exception but if you go through Jordan you come to Iraq (hostile, civil war), Syira (hostile, civil war), or Saudi Arabia (just hostile). This contributes to the siege mentality in the population.

    tl;dr: If you live in Israel, you live in country based on a tight coupling of church and state; you cannot go on holiday except by airplane; your children will face 2/3 years of military service with a good probability of serving in actual combat and occupation duties; whenever you drive over 100 miles you hit a wall (often quite literally); and almost half the people living in the area controlled by Israel are treated as second class at best. It is a bit like moving to 1950's South Carolina but with closed borders so the only way out is by flying through Europe. No, thanks.

  • Gershom Gorenberg [wordpress.com] has brought it up on several occasions. In his view, electoral considerations in the Knesset [prospectmagazine.co.uk] mean that Israel has a less than sane approach to educating the next generation.

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