Milk a Genius Makes - Pacific Standard

Milk a Genius Makes

It’s not just an affinity for chocolate that seems to produce Nobel prizewinners.
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Reading Pacific Standard when you should be filing TPS reports? Don’t worry—even serious scientists find ways to avoid working.

That’s the takeaway from a report by two British neurologists which finds that the more milk a country drinks, the more likely it is to produce Nobel prizewinners. The letter, from the February issue of Practical Neurology, builds on a previous bit of silly science about Nobel laureates and chocolate consumption.

In that study, which I wrote about for NPR, Franz Messerli, a cardiologist at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital, plotted the per-capita chocolate consumption of 23 countries against the number of prizewinning scientists, peace-makers, and writers they’d produced. He found an improbably strong correlation between the two—with Switzerland at the top, and China at the bottom—and sent his findings to the New England Journal of Medicine. Cheekily, he suggested  that the flavanols found in cocoa (as well as wine and green tea) might be responsible for boosting a nation’s collective intelligence. Of course, he noted, correlation does not prove causation: perhaps the Swiss simply celebrated the achievements of their country’s cognoscenti by breaking out the Lindt.

After reading Messerli’s paper, the British neurologists, apparently with too much time on their hands, decided to plot Nobel laureates against milk consumption.

“Chocolate is not usually consumed on its own,” they reason in the letter, “often being combined with milk either as a drink or as milk chocolate.” Using data from the UN, they, too, found that a healthy habit for 2 percent rendered a country more likely to win Nobel prizes. And instead of flavanols, they suggest the brain-boosting power of vitamin D as a possible explanation.

“So to improve your chances of winning Nobel prizes,” the authors conclude, “you should not only eat more chocolate but perhaps drink milk too: or strive for synergy with hot chocolate?”