A Brill Calendar: April 12
Brothers "Divided by Learning"
Few brothers distinguished themselves academically in two quite different and distinct fields with such memorable results as Jan and Niko Tinbergen.
Both were born in The Hague, both a Leyden alumnus; both recipients of a Nobel Prize. The older one, Jan, received his for economics in 1969 – the first in this discipline – and Niko the other, for physiology & medicine, four years later, in 1973. By the time of his death in 1994 Jan had survived his younger brother Niko by some six years. Curiously enough, both Tinbergens won the Nobel Prize at exactly the same age: 66.
These similarities go hand in hand with great differences. Generating a new branch of economic study drawing heavily on statistics and applied mathematics, ‘econometrics’ – Jan’s crowning achievement – is a far cry from revitalizing the study of ethology and animal behaviour, as Niko did. Their relationships with the same Alma Mater also differed substantially. Both Jan and Niko were active as Leyden Professors; but Jan served only two years, the last ones before his retirement in 1975, while Niko taught in Leyden for 17 years, immediately after he earned his Doctoral Degree in 1932. Four years after the war, in 1949, he resigned his Chair and moved to Oxford, where a brand-new Research Department came into being under his organizational and intellectual guidance.
It is seldom that two separate pursuits help and cause to create new modes of awareness in societies, their cultures and economies. Both Tinbergens were ahead of their time; Jan’s ‘economic modelling’, preceding the advent of computer processing, came into its digital own while he still lived as an Emeritus.