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I have had the privilege of meeting and observing hundreds of scientists over the years and can confirm that many (but not all) of the stereotypes about them are true. This is because certain countries, cultures and ethnic groups seem to be particularly good at certain disciplines. Sri Lanka, for instance, punches some way above its weight in mathematics and physics - a possible consequence of being home for so many years to the late Arthur C. Clarke, who was an inspirational figure for the island's scientists.

Israel, enriched first by Europe’s fleeing Jewish intelligentsia and subsequently by the Soviet Jewish diaspora, produces an almost absurd number of top-flight scientists and has possibly the highest publication-to-population ratio in the world. Of course, not all physicists and cosmologists are Jewish, but a great many are. Israel is rivalled by Iceland, another country that has had to live largely by its wits. Japan, too, belying an old stereotype, is a nation of innovation rather than adaptation.

Although most scientific papers are written in English, German retains a strong hold over chemistry. It was in Germany that the great advances in chemistry, particularly organic chemistry, were made in the 19th and early 20th centuries. China (a new scientific colossus) and Korea are establishing a strong genetics and biochemistry base, while India does well in mathematics.

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