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posted by LaminatorX on Tuesday February 18 2014, @02:30PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the 4x10^1-is-the-new-3x10^1 dept.
regift_of_the_gods writes "Science and technology are often considered young man's games. Isaac Newton worked out the details of differential and integral calculus and laid the foundations of mechanics and optics when he was 23 years old. Einstein was 26 when he had his big year, publishing papers on the photoelectric effect, Brownian motion and Special Relativity. Mathematicians aren't even eligible to win the biggest prize in their field once they turn 40. But a new paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research examining the relationship between age and peak output for great achievers in science (e.g., Nobel Prize winners) and technology concludes that the sweet spot for peak achievement occurs between the middle thirties and late forties. After that, in the words of the paper's authors, 'the frequency of great scientific breakthroughs tends to wane in middle age and continues to decline thereafter.' (No pressure here, but if you're in your thirties or forties as you read this, then maaaybe it's time to pick up the pace). The authors note that the peak productivity curve has drifted rightward (towards older ages) over the course of the previous century, presumably because of the tremendous growth in the knowledge base scientists need to master before making a fundamental contribution. The NBER paper is based on earlier studies conducted by multiple researchers going back several decades; two of the three authors published a similar paper in 2011, which was also noticed in the press."

[ED Note: I've often wondered if the long years of post-docs and junior research positions isn't squandering the peak creativity of a generation of scientists in support of their elders' projects.]
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  • (Score: 2, Interesting) by githaron on Tuesday February 18 2014, @03:01PM

    by githaron (581) on Tuesday February 18 2014, @03:01PM (#1630)

    I wonder if this curve will change in a few hundred years. On one hand, people will have a lot more things to know than now. On the other hand, they will probably be cyborgs by then.

    • (Score: 1) by Zoot on Tuesday February 18 2014, @03:52PM

      by Zoot (679) on Tuesday February 18 2014, @03:52PM (#1664)

      Actually the sweet spot is likely to move even younger as people can bypass many of the traditionally gating career points and get on with doing productive work at an earlier age.

      Why wait for your Bio post-doc years and clawing your way up the Professorship ladder if you can do DIYBio in your kitchen?

      Maybe this trend will be balanced a bit by the need to know more and more over time in order to reach a level where your research actually becomes novel.

      Z.

      • (Score: 1) by Daniel Dvorkin on Thursday February 20 2014, @01:19AM

        by Daniel Dvorkin (1099) on Thursday February 20 2014, @01:19AM (#3036) Journal

        Maybe this trend will be balanced a bit by the need to know more and more over time in order to reach a level where your research actually becomes novel.

        More than a bit.

        Much, much, much more.

        --
        Pipedot [pipedot.org]:Soylent [soylentnews.org]::BSD:Linux
  • (Score: 5, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 18 2014, @03:06PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 18 2014, @03:06PM (#1636)
    Study was conducted by a group of depressed scientists aged 35 to 50 in an attempt to cheer themselves up.

    Seriously, the sweet spot will probably keep growing for a bit more as people are living longer and longer. There is time to study longer and start your research later - see this graph [theatlantic.com] from the article.

    • (Score: 5, Funny) by lubricus on Tuesday February 18 2014, @03:10PM

      by lubricus (232) on Tuesday February 18 2014, @03:10PM (#1639)

      Study was conducted by a group of depressed scientists aged 35 to 50 in an attempt to cheer themselves up.

      Have to admit: it worked for me!

      --
      ... sorry about the typos
    • (Score: 2, Informative) by scruffybeard on Tuesday February 18 2014, @03:25PM

      by scruffybeard (533) on Tuesday February 18 2014, @03:25PM (#1649)

      Not only are people living longer, you also have a large generation (baby-boomers) possibly skewing the stats a bit. Plus many of them have decided to work longer than their parents, giving them more time to do more stuff.

    • (Score: 2, Informative) by BsAtHome on Tuesday February 18 2014, @03:34PM

      by BsAtHome (889) on Tuesday February 18 2014, @03:34PM (#1653)

      Oh my... By the time you reach 60 you are waning in the irrelevant section and at 70 you are completely dead weight. Well, that is according to this one measurement parameter.

      I do would like to note that the older generation can teach the young generation some tricks. It just requires you to listen to the "old guys" once in a while.

  • (Score: 4, Funny) by nitehawk214 on Tuesday February 18 2014, @03:12PM

    by nitehawk214 (1304) on Tuesday February 18 2014, @03:12PM (#1642)
    --
    "Don't you ever miss the days when you used to be nostalgic?" -Loiosh
  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by L.M.T. Spoon on Tuesday February 18 2014, @03:14PM

    by L.M.T. Spoon (641) on Tuesday February 18 2014, @03:14PM (#1643)

    Along with the Editor's Note: I am not sure about the general trend of how much teaching was required from graduate students and post docs over the last hundred years, but I know that it is very difficult to be both under the pressure of teaching multiple classes in order to be paid and of publishing papers in order to get hired in the future. This much stress definitely hinders the quality of the work, and it is easily possible that many researchers come to their best ideas when they are significantly older and in a stable position.

    • (Score: 1) by bopal on Tuesday February 18 2014, @05:41PM

      by bopal (321) on Tuesday February 18 2014, @05:41PM (#1741)

      Not only that, but it's also the way of thinking characteristic to novel ideas. Technology helps you to get more advanced things done with less effort.
      But the beauty of good research in science is not technology, but simplistic elegance. For that you have deep your field, which takes time.

  • (Score: 2, Interesting) by Open4D on Tuesday February 18 2014, @03:55PM

    by Open4D (371) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday February 18 2014, @03:55PM (#1666) Journal

    ED Note: I've often wondered if the long years of post-docs and junior research positions isn't squandering the peak creativity of a generation of scientists in support of their elders' projects.

    And I presume a factor like this would not be something the study could adjust for. So if it's true that 35-50 is the peak, that could easily be due to how academia is structured rather than any general factor innate to human beings (like our brain biology).

    Perhaps in the future, mathematics & physics advances will dry up, and the response will be a widespread effort to fast-track kids in certain specialisms, so that by the time they're 20 they have the same level of academic & bureaucratic freedom as today's 35-50 year-olds. Wishful thinking?

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 19 2014, @08:47AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 19 2014, @08:47AM (#2251)

      No, it's probably brain biology.

  • (Score: 2, Insightful) by Random2 on Tuesday February 18 2014, @03:57PM

    by Random2 (669) on Tuesday February 18 2014, @03:57PM (#1668)

    Is it necessarily bad that it takes decades for one to reach 'peak productivity' in an academic field? Why?

    And, if it is, what types of things should we, as a society, do to change it? How can we sustainably promote changes that would produce more worthwhile results, faster?

    --
    If only I registered 3 users earlier....
    • (Score: 5, Insightful) by NovelUserName on Tuesday February 18 2014, @05:36PM

      by NovelUserName (768) on Tuesday February 18 2014, @05:36PM (#1733)

      As a Scientist (I study brain computer interfaces for prosthetic applications), I don't see the lead up time as a problem. The specialization and detailed study required for a person to make important advances takes up till about 30yr old. After that you have a few years to find a position, set up a lab, start doing research under your own supervision, find funding etc. before you can really start producing good stuff. 35 is bang on for when I'd expect to be hitting stride.

      The problem I see is that productivity tapers off after 15 years. Do people burn out? Do their brains stop functioning the same way? are the 15yrs of success just riding on ideas they had in their 20s? Can we keep good scientists productive longer? should we be shuffling them to admin roles faster to let bright new minds take the helm? Do we need to encourage risk taking by more established researchers?

      All of that aside, I think that part of this may be that people tend to keep working in the fields they made their early seminal work in. Frequently a seminal work will take several years to digest through the community before it's recognized, and then several more years before the field has adapted enough for the next big breakthrough. This means that someone bright enough to make a significant contribution early in their career, is less likely to make them later on.

      • (Score: 1) by m on Wednesday February 19 2014, @06:16AM

        by m (1741) on Wednesday February 19 2014, @06:16AM (#2179)

        One factor that I see contributing, besides "burning out" or "brains not working," is that older scientists are increasingly shunted into administrative / advisory roles. The scientists I know in the "over 50" category tend to devote more time to to things like being a department chair, or flying to meetings of national science advisory boards. I wouldn't say this is necessarily a bad thing; as a younger researcher, I love the fact that someone else is dealing with the boring political/administrative aspects of research, so I can put in time in the lab doing "creative" research. Older scientists haven't necessarily stopped contributing; instead, they're "behind the scenes" enabling the next generation of younger colleagues to be so productive. Right now, I wouldn't want to end up like that (a "senior" scientist more focused on high-level administration than the hands-on details of research), but perhaps my opinions will change in a few decades --- and I can certainly see a lot of contribution to the overall scientific endeavor by older scientists that wouldn't be counted by a simplistic "groundbreaking research papers" metric.

  • (Score: 0, Troll) by SoylentsISay on Tuesday February 18 2014, @04:40PM

    by SoylentsISay (1331) on Tuesday February 18 2014, @04:40PM (#1692)

    Pop sci should stay on /.

    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by mattie_p on Tuesday February 18 2014, @06:29PM

      by mattie_p (13) on Tuesday February 18 2014, @06:29PM (#1780) Journal

      Thanks for the feedback. As we are in the early days of SoylentNews, we are selecting from a wide variety of topics while we explore what everyone wants to see. I'd encourage you to read from the article you like, and feel free to skip the ones you don't. Thanks for reading! ~mattie_p

  • (Score: 5, Funny) by TheloniousToady on Tuesday February 18 2014, @05:25PM

    by TheloniousToady (820) on Tuesday February 18 2014, @05:25PM (#1723)
    "It is a sobering thought that when Mozart was my age, he had been dead for two years."
  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by siwelwerd on Tuesday February 18 2014, @11:50PM

    by siwelwerd (946) on Tuesday February 18 2014, @11:50PM (#2029)

    Math is becoming less and less of a young person's game. The vast increase in specialization over the last 100 years has meant that it takes longer to get to the forefront of current research. Most mathematicians are near 30 when they find a permanent position, so 35-50 encompasses the tenured years before you start to slow down too much. Not surprising if that's when you're most productive!

  • (Score: 1) by lajos on Wednesday February 19 2014, @02:04AM

    by lajos (528) on Wednesday February 19 2014, @02:04AM (#2081)

    The Zuck says no way. 35-50 waaaaay too old.

  • (Score: 1) by Luke on Wednesday February 19 2014, @06:48AM

    by Luke (175) on Wednesday February 19 2014, @06:48AM (#2195)

    When I was in my 20's no one would take any notice of my great ideas, and I had no money to do anything about them, albeit I still did a lot of 'stuff'.

    In my late 30's and 40's I was full on learning/working/creating/earning and my output was [sometimes!] prodigious.

    Now I'm just on the other side of that & I'm tired from all the work and have enough money to indulge that tiredness, so my output is less...

    Actually I suppose I should admit it's probably also that I have more toys to play with now!