Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Are people from London and the South East physics dullards?

All together now: 'Maybe it's because he's not
a Londoner, that he's a physics great...'
While walking the dog yesterday I got to thinking about Isaac Newton (the way you do) and from him, of the other great physicists in British history. And it started me thinking that London and the South East is rather under-represented.

As a little experiment, I've listed all British Nobel Prize in Physics winners, plus the obvious individuals who would have won a Nobel if it had been around in their day.

I came up with:

  • Isaac Newton (NE)
  • Michael Faraday (born in London, but his family had just moved from NW)
  • James Clerk Maxwell (Scot)
  • 1904 Lord Rayleigh (SE)
  • 1906 J J Thomson (NW)
  • 1915 WH and WL Bragg (NW)
  • 1927 Charles Wilson (Scot)
  • 1928 Owen Richardson (NW)
  • 1933 Paul Dirac (SW)
  • 1934 James Chadwick (NW)
  • 1937 George Thomson (East Anglia)
  • 1947 Edward Appleton (NE)
  • 1948 Patrick Blackett (London)
  • 1950 Cecil Powell  (SE)
  • 1952 John Cockroft (NW)
  • 1973 Brian Josephson (Wales)
  • 1974 Martin Ryle (SE)
  • 1974 Anthony Hewish (SW)
  • 1977 Nevill Mott (NE)
  • 2003 Anthony Leggett (London)
  • 2013 Peter Higgs (NE)
So, London manages 2, and the SE manages 3. That's not a bad score, but still seems a little meagre compared with 7 from the North West.

Of course the numbers are small, and it's hard to read a lot into such statistics (though it's worth a pause for thought that we didn't get a single Nobel Laureate in Physics between 1977 and 2003). Even so, it would be interesting to compare the ratio of, say cabinet minsters from London and the South East to other parts of the country since 1901 (the year of the first Physics Nobel).

My suspicion is that such a comparison might suggest that where physics greats are chosen on merit, cabinet ministers are chosen for a different reason entirely.

P.S. I couldn't be bothered to go through cabinet ministers, but I did prime ministers and it's quite interesting that a) Scotland is over-represented, b) NW is under-represented and c) the domination of London and the SE is relatively recent:

  • Arthur Balfour (Scot)
  • Henry Cambell-Bannerman (Scot)
  • Herbert Asquith (NE)
  • David Lloyd George (Wales)
  • Andrew Bonar Law (Colonies)
  • Stanley Baldwin (Midlands)
  • Ramsey McDonald (Scot)
  • Neville Chamberlain (Midlands)
  • Winston Churchill (SE*)
  • Clement Attlee (SE)
  • Anthony Eden (NE)
  • Harold Macmillan (London)
  • Alec Douglas-Home (London)
  • Harold Wilson (NE)
  • Edward Heath (SE)
  • James Calaghan (SE-ish**)
  • Margaret Thatcher (NE)
  • John Major (SE)
  • Tony Blair (Scot)
  • Gordon Brown (Scot)
  • David Cameron (London)

  • The two starred items are because we don't have a South Midlands:
    * Oxfordshire is spiritually SE
    ** Portsmouth is not spiritually SE, but Hampshire is

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