The fun way to excel at physics

When this year’s Nobel prizes were awarded last month, a Columbia University scientist offered a startling suggestion for how a country might win more of them.

Eat more chocolate.

Writing in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, cardiologist Franz Messerli reported his discovery that a nation’s chocolate consumption is closely linked to the number of Nobel laureates it produces. Switzerland, with the highest chocolate consumption in the world, also has the most Nobels per capita.

Canadian chocolate consumption turns out to be tragically modest, as is our production of nobel winners. The US easily edged us out on both counts, and still managed to fall well below the middle of the pack.

The Nobel chocolate gap may prove hard to close. To produce just one more laureate, Messerli calculated, the US would have to up its cocoa intake by a 275 million pounds a year.

Past prize winners were quick to embrace Messerli’s findings.

“I attribute essentially all my success to the very large amount of chocolate that I consume,” Eric Cornell, an American physicist who shared the Nobel Prize in 2001, told the Reuters News Service.

“Personally I feel that milk chocolate makes you stupid,” he added. “Dark chocolate is the way to go. It’s one thing if you want, like, a medicine or chemistry Nobel Prize, OK, but if you want a physics Nobel Prize it pretty much has got to be dark chocolate.”

All this was too much for the BBC program More of Less, which dissects the misuse of numbers in the news. The program, whose oft-repeated rallying cry is, “correlation is not causation,”  asked Cornell to elaborate, but he was having second thoughts and declined to be interviewed.

“I deeply regret the rash remarks I made to the media,” said a written statement issued by University of Colorado scientist. “We scientists should strive to maintain objective neutrality and refrain from declaring our affiliation either with milk chocolate or with dark chocolate.”

“Now I ask that the media kindly respect my family’s privacy in this difficult time.”


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