The atomic bomb was basically a Hungarian high school science fair project

Sunday, May 28th, 2017

The Atomic Bomb could be considered a Hungarian high school science fair project:

A group of Manhattan Project physicists created a tongue-in-cheek mythology where superintelligent Martian scouts landed in Budapest in the late 19th century and stayed for about a generation, after which they decided the planet was unsuitable for their needs and disappeared. The only clue to their existence were the children they had with local women.

The joke was that this explained why the Manhattan Project was led by a group of Hungarian supergeniuses, all born in Budapest between 1890 and 1920. These included Manhattan Project founder Leo Szilard, H-bomb creator Edward Teller, Nobel-Prize-winning quantum physicist Eugene Wigner, and legendary polymath John von Neumann, namesake of the List Of Things Named After John Von Neumann.

The coincidences actually pile up beyond this. Von Neumann, Wigner, and possibly Teller all went to the same central Budapest high school at about the same time, leading a friend to joke about the atomic bomb being basically a Hungarian high school science fair project.

Those geniuses weren’t of Martian descent:

Here’s something interesting: every single person I mentioned above is of Jewish descent. Every single one. This isn’t some clever setup where I only selected Jewish-Hungarians in order to spring this on you later. I selected all the interesting Hungarians I could find, then went back and checked, and every one of them was Jewish.

Scott Alexander presents a pretty reasonable explanation of the Martian phenomenon:

For the reasons suggested by Cochran, Hardy, and Harpending, Ashkenazi Jews had the potential for very high intelligence. They were mostly too poor and discriminated against to take advantage of it. Around 1880, this changed in a few advanced Central European economies like Germany, Austria, and Hungary. Austria didn’t have many Jews. Germany had a lot of Jews, but it was a big country, so nobody really noticed. Hungary had a lot of Jews, all concentrated in Budapest, and so it was really surprising when all of a sudden everyone from Budapest started winning Nobel Prizes around the same time. This continued until World War II, and then all anyone remembered was “Hey, wasn’t it funny that so many smart people were born in Budapest between 1880 and 1920?”


  1. Slovenian Guest says:

    Vox Day would disagree:

    There were 26 Jewish scientists of note involved in some way with the Manhattan Project. 13 were US-born, 13 were foreign born. Hans Bethe was also half-Jewish, but he is usually omitted because he was raised Protestant. These 26 men did not make up the near-entirety of the scientific personnel of the project; one of the “scientists” listed was not even a scientist, but an engineer still in college. Not only did these 26 “Jewish scientists” not make up the majority of the 6,000 scientists involved in the project, they didn’t even make up the majority of physicists involved.

    It is true that Jewish scientists, both US- and foreign-born, made vital contributions to the Manhattan Project. It is unlikely that the atomic bomb would have been completed in 1945 without them; it probably would have taken another year or three and therefore would never have been dropped in war. But to claim that Jewish scientists were “almost exclusively” responsible for it is utterly false and a tremendous insult to literally thousands of American scientists and engineers, to say nothing of the six British and Australian members of the vital MAUD Committee, without which the Manhattan Project would probably not have been created in time to factor into the history of WWII.

  2. Bomag says:

    The exceptional mathematician Paul Erdos was born in the mentioned time frame.

  3. Lu An Li says:

    “every single person I mentioned above is of Jewish descent. Every single one. This isn’t some clever setup where I only selected Jewish-Hungarians in order to spring this on you later.”

    Jews born in the United States too very instrumental in the development of the atomic bomb. Oppenheimer # 1. Of course too the Israeli began around 1950 [?] for their own a-bomb project and succeeded in about a decade or so beyond all expectations at least as can be determined.

  4. Gaikokumaniakku says:

    “…all of a sudden everyone from Budapest started winning Nobel Prizes around the same time…”

    Are the Nobel Prizes awarded by angels who are devoid of conflicts of interest, or are they awarded by fallible, corruptible humans who might give their friends unfair advantages in the competition?

  5. Slovenian Guest says:

    Hardly, according to Grey Enlightenment:

    The title and the premise invokes mental imagery of a renegade band of Hungarian scientists working assiduously in secrecy to retaliate against their Nazi tormentors/bullies–a sort of ‘revenge of the nerds’ archetype. Similar to Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers, Scott, to great success, uses a combination of imagery and generalizations to tell a story that almost confirms the preexisting biases of the reader. It’s not a bad essay, and storytelling is an essential component of writing, but in the process the truth may be embellished.

    Far from being a insular classroom of Hungarian scientists, in reality, the Manhattan Protect was a massive bureaucratic undertaking, costing $27 billion in 2016 dollars and employing 130,000 people from all over the world.

    For example: From 1942 to 1946, the Manhattan Project was directed by Major General Leslie Groves of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The nuclear division of Manhattan Project at Los Alamos Laboratory was led by theoretical physicist Robert Oppenheimer, born in NY and arguably the most important person of the project. Nuclear fission was discovered by German chemists Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann, in 1938. Otto Robert Frisch, an Austrian-British physicist, and Lise Meitner, an Austrian-Swedish physicist, developed the theoretical implementation of a nuclear bomb. The Chief of Engineers, Major General Eugene Reybold and Colonel James C. Marshall, were both Americans. Enrico Fermi, the creator of the world’s first nuclear reactor, the Chicago Pile-1, was from Italy. Rudolf Ernst Peierls, a German-born British physicist, in 1939 made a breakthrough investigating the critical mass of uranium-235, and Ernest Lawrence, an American nuclear scientist, in 1939 developed the cyclotron. Of all the major theoretical physicists involved in the development of the hydrogen bomb–the much more powerful successor to the atomic bomb–Hans Bethe (Germany), John Van Vleck (America), Edward Teller (Hungary), Emil Konopinski (Poland), Robert Serber (America), Stan Frankel (America), and Eldred C. Nelson (America), and experimental physicists Emilio Segrè (Italy), Felix Bloch (Switzerland), Franco Rasetti (Italy), John Henry Manley (America), and Edwin McMillan (America)–Edward Teller is the lone Hungarian Jew. And on and on… as it turns out, very few of the important people involved were Hungarian Jews.

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