Scientific Elite is about Nobel prize winners and the well-defined stratification system in twentieth-century science. It tracks the careers of all American laureates who won prizes from 1907 until 1972, examining the complex interplay of merit and privilege at each stage of their scientific lives and the creation of the ultra-elite in science.
The study draws on biographical and bibliographical data on laureates who did their prize-winning research in the United States, and on detailed interviews with forty-one of the fifty-six laureates living in the United States at the time the study was done. Zuckerman finds laureates being successively advantaged as time passes. These advantages are producing growing disparities between the elite and other scientists both in performance and in rewards, which create and maintain a sharply graded stratification system.