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Superannuated Scientists Still Productive

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the anonymous-ice-floe-pictures-help dept.

Science 117

An anonymous reader writes "Modern corporations seem to have devalued older scientists. They are all to happy to have their veteran employees, scientists included, take an early retirement so that they can be replaced by younger people who expect fewer benefits and will work for lower pay. Thomas Kuhn, philosopher of science and author of the influential book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, believed that revolution in science was forged only by younger scientists. Some older studies of small academic groups seemed to show that scientific productivity peaks at middle age and declines thereafter. A newer study of 13,680 university professors found that scientific productivity still increases up to age 50, and it then stabilizes from age fifty to retirement for the more industrious researchers. When 'high impact' publications are considered, researchers older than 55 still hold their own. A recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that the majority of Nobel Laureates in Chemistry from 1901 to 1960 did their prize-winning work by age 40. After 1960, chemistry laureates were more likely to have done their prize-winning work after age 40."

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117 comments

rights (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38435412)

Fucking neckbeards. Fuck you all!

Hopefully it will matter (3, Insightful)

sidthegeek (626567) | more than 2 years ago | (#38435414)

Ultimately it'll be up to the company to decide whether an older researcher is worth it, even after reading the new data. I personally think it would be.

Re:Hopefully it will matter (3, Interesting)

Defenestrar (1773808) | more than 2 years ago | (#38435916)

So what do you do with the feet-firsters? When you've got an octa- or non- genarian holding up at least three person's salaries (mid or regular-senior career), they'll eventually start to fade, and even if management decides they can afford the severance package - letting them go is likely going to literally kill them. It can get pretty ugly towards the end if you keep them around, especially if money gets tight or deadlines need to be met. It can be heartbreaking and extremely frustrating to spend hours reminding a well respected legend how to do some of the most basic tasks; repeatedly. You also choke off the promotion route for your mid-level persons, they'll effectively have to leave the company so you'll be left with an experience gap when the end does come. Seems like it'd be easier to deal with this problem in the mid sixties or early seventies when everyone still has their full faculties and can reasonably talk about it.

Besides, if the publication curve is flat (and in almost every case it will eventually it will decline), it still makes more financial sense to hire two or three fifty year olds (or younger) to take the place of the one eighty year old.

Re:Hopefully it will matter (1)

Pewpdaddy (1364159) | more than 2 years ago | (#38435986)

Hopefully any well educated 80 year old is already 5-10 years into retirement. I surely do not intend to work into my 70's. =p

Re:Hopefully it will matter (1)

Defenestrar (1773808) | more than 2 years ago | (#38436124)

Never met a feet-firster? Someone determined to keep their lab/office until they've got to be carried out feet first?

Re:Hopefully it will matter (1)

Pewpdaddy (1364159) | more than 2 years ago | (#38436690)

Never quite understood it home > work in my case, but maybe I'm the crazy one.

Re:Hopefully it will matter (1)

Sponge Bath (413667) | more than 2 years ago | (#38436988)

Shine on you crazy diamond. Since employers are turning to blinking life clocks as a measure of worth, might as well be someplace people place a higher value on you. Unless your spouse is an asshole and your children are horrible monsters, in which case a few more waning years at Carousel Inc doesn't sound so bad. YMMV.

Re:Hopefully it will matter (3, Insightful)

ILongForDarkness (1134931) | more than 2 years ago | (#38437592)

Well when you are in your 70's and your spouse is dead and your kids are living across the country home might not be > work.

Is working at age 80 even legal over there? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38439286)

Is it even legal to work that long in the US? I don't think that one can work in a full time job past the age 68 where I live (and no, it's not Greece. We still have our AAA-rating. ;) ) and even that's more than it used to be. Most people retire somewhere between 61 and 65 though there are some professions (such as firefighters) where people have to retire or start doing less straining work (e.g., become a fire safety inspector) earlier.

I think that the rationale is somewhat similar as it is when it comes to child labor. There are some anecdotal cases where the individual really does want to work and it's still in their (and everyone else's) best interest that they do so... but there's just a shitload of problems that occur if 75-year old people are kept in the workforce.

Re:Is working at age 80 even legal over there? (4, Informative)

Bowling Moses (591924) | more than 2 years ago | (#38440520)

There is no maximum age, although hires and employees can get weeded out by the "must lift 40 lbs box" or "stand for long periods of time" requirements that pop up routinely even for office work. You've probably heard jokes about geriatric Walmart greeters, but many Americans work well into their 60's and beyond. The earliest you're eligible for Social Security is 62 with reduced benefits, or 65-67 with full benefits (the eligibility depends on birth date, born after 1960 and you must be 67). Since Social Security doesn't pay that much many Americans work longer, or work longer because retirement is unappealing. My uncle didn't retire from trucking until his early 70's despite having to unload the semi himself, and that's after doing that job for 40 years and having a bad back, bad shoulder, and a hip replacement. My mom (68) and an aunt (70) are still office workers. Farmers also tend to hang on, in the USA 40% of them are age 55+ and every farmer out there knows some crazy old bastard still at it deep into their 80's.

More on topic, for scientists and retirement there's a big difference between those who work in academia and those who work in private enterprise. For the latter, unless you've moved up very high in the corporate ladder you're going to retire in your 60's, assuming you haven't gotten canned and replaced with a younger, cheaper scientist. For academic scientists there's tenured professors and then there's everybody else. Postdocs either find an industry job, quit science, or move up to an academic staff science job (tenure track jobs account for much less than 1%). Academic staff scientists either transition to industry, quit science, or are forced into retirement when their professor boss retires/can't get grants. Tenured professors rarely retire. Eventually they get demoted to Professor Emeritus, typically with restrictions on their ability to recruit grad students. There will be pressure on them to downsize their lab from the university and their department, but some can continue for many years winning grants and employing postdocs, techs, staff scientists, and undergrads. Eventually their lab will shrink in numbers and they may be reduced to a tiny space nobody else wants, or just an office. I know several professors who worked/are working into their 80's with reduced lab personnel and/or space, and have heard of a few who went into their 90's. Ernst Mayr never retired, instead going out feet first at 100.

Re:Hopefully it will matter (1)

TWX (665546) | more than 2 years ago | (#38436408)

I can tell you that scientists providing long term support for legacy products that continue to see new revisions or other innovations are essential in keeping the product line viable for the company. These older workers have probably already found and worked around the pitfalls that new, inexperienced employees would only discover the hard way, and in a product with a 40 to 50 year life cycle like many military or aerospace products have, failing to avoid the same problems development cycle after development cycle gets obscenely expensive. Much more expensive than just paying the wage to the older employee to avoid those problems.

On the other hand, when employees actually want or need to retire, and it becomes an entire generation, like mant of those who worked on the shuttle program, maybe it's time to retire the product rather than trying to extend it. ATK and trying to extend the SRBs is one example. They already have proven to have some flaws as we learned in 1986, so now that many of the engineers and scientists working on them are retiring, retire the product too.

Re:Hopefully it will matter (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38436516)

Ultimately it'll be up to the company to decide whether an older researcher is worth it, even after reading the new data. I personally think it would be.

"We're sorry, Doctor Einstein. I'm afraid we have to let you go."

Not quite (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38435454)

I think this paragraph is misquoting Kuhn. New ideas that overcome existing theories do not necessarily come from younger scientists. It has more to do with investment in a particular theory, regardless of age.

Laymens Title: (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38435480)

Smart people are still smart when they grow up...

Re:Laymens Title: (1)

Defenestrar (1773808) | more than 2 years ago | (#38435994)

Smart people are still smart when they grow up...

...until senescence anyway. Women have to sacrifice some of their career for a family (maybe not more than a few months, but the little things add up too). Old people have to retire (or expire). Biological imperatives don't care about HR policy.

hard to disentangle from job/lab structures (5, Insightful)

Trepidity (597) | more than 2 years ago | (#38435514)

With something like chemistry, unlike say mathematics or some parts of computer science that can be done independently, in the present day to make real advances you need a lab, and who has a lab is closely tied in with things like academic promotion. I don't have a link to statistics handy, but I recall reading that the average age at which people become professors in the sciences has increased drastically, as the PhD has gotten longer (from an average of 4 to 6-7 years), and even after that, people now typically do multiple postdocs before becoming professors. So you may not even be settled into your own lab, free to pursue you own research agenda, until late 30s or early 40s. That would tend to mean that most advances come from people >40 independently of mental acuity, because they run all the labs!

Now you might say, you can still do groundbreaking work as a grad student or postdoc, and this does happen, but the credit usually goes to the senior scientist, not the grad student or postdoc in the lab doing the synthesis. So in practice it's very difficult to win a Nobel Prize without first becoming a principal investigator with your own lab, because you won't really get the credit for it even if you do do something groundbreaking.

I'd be interested in seeing a version of this study adjusted for academic position. Are tenured faculty over 40 more productive than the few tenured faculty who are in their 30s? Or are we comparing 45-year-old tenured principal investigators with 35-year-old postdocs? My hypothesis is that the older-scientists-are-productive effect is mainly due to older scientists having more senior academic positions.

Re:hard to disentangle from job/lab structures (4, Insightful)

Surt (22457) | more than 2 years ago | (#38435936)

Note that it's the people with the post-docs in the labs actually making the advancements, though, it's just the guy with the lab getting the credit.

Re:hard to disentangle from job/lab structures (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38435968)

This, definitely; sometimes the PI has no idea what's going on in his lab, yet still gets the credit, as long as he's providing the funding...

Re:hard to disentangle from job/lab structures (3, Interesting)

Defenestrar (1773808) | more than 2 years ago | (#38436092)

Watson was a postdoc and his name still goes before Crick. What you're describing about the credit to the senior scientist is either because they actually are driving a long term series of experiments (longer than a single grad student sticks around) or an ethical issue where the senior scientist is falsely putting his or her name on a student's work. People on Nobel committees are usually pretty good at spotting the difference.

Re:hard to disentangle from job/lab structures (5, Interesting)

cranky_chemist (1592441) | more than 2 years ago | (#38436346)

You nailed it.

This is why any comparison of the productivity of researchers of different generations falls flat on its face.

Forty years ago, most scientists completed their PhDs by age 25 and stepped immediately into tenure-track faculty positions. Cold-war research funding was plentiful, and within two or three years, most of those PhDs landed generous research grants that allowed them trick out their labs and fund small armies of grad students. From that point onward, their productivity was assured.

Today, in addition to the 10 years of additional "training" PhDs receive, an ever-increasing number of mouths are taking bites from the ever-shrinking funding pie. Luck, at least as much as the researcher's brilliant ideas, is now the determining factor of success.

Re:hard to disentangle from job/lab structures (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38437508)

Don't forget that in many institutions, certainly at my major research university, senior faculty are often promoted/called-upon to perform additional duties in administration in addition to just running their lab, so they often spend less time doing research than more junior faculty. That doesn't mean they aren't as good as younger scientists. The 'most folks do their best research before 40' sayers usually don't take that into account.

Re:hard to disentangle from job/lab structures (1)

nmr_andrew (1997772) | more than 2 years ago | (#38438406)

Luck is an important component. However, I'd also throw in the old adage that "who you know is more important than what you know".

As an aside, in the life sciences, the average age of first RO1 (major NIH research grant) is now >41. Good luck getting tenure without one...

Re:hard to disentangle from job/lab structures (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38437260)

I agree with your point, but note that an implication of what you're saying is that it's not the person, it's the environment and group, that matters for productivity.

The bigger problem than the age prejudice in this country is "genius" worship. The idea of genius is a myth. It's not that people don't differ in ability, skill, and motivation, even significantly so, but the reality is that advances involve groups of people making relatively small contributions.

The genius myth overlaps with the age assumption to a large extent, and also feeds into problems with idea of intellectual property.

http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/issues/2002/12/garber.htm

Re:hard to disentangle from job/lab structures (1)

Trepidity (597) | more than 2 years ago | (#38437618)

Oh I think that's definitely true; there's a reason why, with a lot of scientific breakthroughs, you can find multiple teams within weeks of each other to get the result (e.g. look at the competition to get the first laser working), because it's more a matter of putting everything together, not a bolt-from-the-blue genius.

Superannuated? (5, Funny)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 2 years ago | (#38435592)

When did 40-55 become "superannuated"?
Do I get to wear a cape?

Re:Superannuated? (5, Funny)

swanzilla (1458281) | more than 2 years ago | (#38436066)

When did 40-55 become "superannuated"? Do I get to wear a cape?

Depends.

Re:Superannuated? (1)

Rubinstien (6077) | more than 2 years ago | (#38439032)

No, 40-55 is still too early for wearing Depends, unless you have some sort of health issue (or just enjoy that sort of thing).

Re:Superannuated? (1)

H0p313ss (811249) | more than 2 years ago | (#38436254)

When did 40-55 become "superannuated"?
Do I get to wear a cape?

You mean you didn't get yours in the mail? You should complain.

Kuhn didn't say that (5, Insightful)

JoshuaZ (1134087) | more than 2 years ago | (#38435598)

Kuhn, philosopher of science and author of the influential book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, believed that revolution in science was forged only by younger scientists.

That's not what he said. Kuhn's views were subtle and complicated. He argued that revolutions in science occur for a variety of reasons, and that scientists switch from paradigm to paradigm and that one cause of switches is older scientists who are set in their ways retiring or dying. This is only one aspect of Kuhn's model. He didn't claim that revolutions were started by younger scientists. If one hasn't read the book I strongly recommend that people do so. Kuhn is an excellent writer. He's wrong on a lot of issues, but is generally wrong for interesting reasons. Of course, it doesn't help matters that we have people repeatedly giving inaccurate summaries of what he argued for.

Re:Kuhn didn't say that (0, Flamebait)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 2 years ago | (#38435710)

He has also largely been rejected by the scientific community. Paradigm shifts is nonsense. It's all people working on the shoulders of giants. Damned few major revolutions in science just came out of the blue.

Re:Kuhn didn't say that (4, Insightful)

Trepidity (597) | more than 2 years ago | (#38435766)

I'm not sure what scientific community you're working in, but he's pretty widely respected in the one I work in. The "working on the shoulders of giants" thing, on the other hand, is pretty widely rejected as overly simplistic, especially given some pretty significant once-respectable dead-ends like phrenology.

Re:Kuhn didn't say that (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38435806)

Paradigm shifts come about *because* of standing on the shoulders of giants. Just because Einstein borrowed his geometry from Riemann doesn't mean the change from Newtonian to Relativistic mechanics wasn't a paradigm shift. Why would you equate a paradigm shift to "coming out of the blue"? Paradigm shifts can happen glacially.

Re:Kuhn didn't say that (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38435812)

Kuhn, philosopher of science and author of the influential book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, believed that revolution in science was forged only by younger scientists.

That's not what he said. Kuhn's views were subtle and complicated. He argued that revolutions in science occur for a variety of reasons, and that scientists switch from paradigm to paradigm and that one cause of switches is older scientists who are set in their ways retiring or dying. This is only one aspect of Kuhn's model. He didn't claim that revolutions were started by younger scientists. If one hasn't read the book I strongly recommend that people do so. Kuhn is an excellent writer. He's wrong on a lot of issues, but is generally wrong for interesting reasons. Of course, it doesn't help matters that we have people repeatedly giving inaccurate summaries of what he argued for.

yyyyeah, but we'll never be able to convince people of that until all the old bastards who fight it die off...

Re:Kuhn didn't say that (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38435952)

...Also the kinds of contributions that seem to be referenced in the blurb are not what Kuhn would have called a paradigm shift. Meaning that just because one is able to get a publication in Nature or Science or develop some slick new drug doesn't mean that there's any reason to dismiss the current working hypothesis.

Re:Kuhn didn't say that (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38439958)

Having read that book, I think he is an awful writer.

Well duh. (5, Insightful)

somersault (912633) | more than 2 years ago | (#38435622)

Science and engineering are quite mature fields and don't change very quickly. The stuff you learn serves you well for a long time. Our best engineer just retired this year. He was stationed at Rolls Royce, a couple of Universities and then here. Amazing guy. He's in his 60s now and says that he can feel that he's less able to remember things and keep everything organised in his head the same way that he used to, but he was still supremely capable when it comes to deconstructing problems and solving them using "the literature", or figuring out his own equations by graphics a bunch of data in a spreadsheet.

Obviously computing technology changes a bit quicker, but I still think that there are still concepts that serve you well and that don't really change in amongst all the other fads that come and goes. Interface and languages have been changing, and everything is getting more powerful, but we've not had any really new concepts since the internet. Virtual machines, parallel processing and thin client "cloud computing" style stuff have been around for decades, but people like to pretend that it's all shiny and new and that your experience becomes completely useless every couple of years..

Re:Well duh. (5, Interesting)

Colonel Korn (1258968) | more than 2 years ago | (#38435772)

Science and engineering are quite mature fields and don't change very quickly. The stuff you learn serves you well for a long time. Our best engineer just retired this year. He was stationed at Rolls Royce, a couple of Universities and then here. Amazing guy. He's in his 60s now and says that he can feel that he's less able to remember things and keep everything organised in his head the same way that he used to, but he was still supremely capable when it comes to deconstructing problems and solving them using "the literature", or figuring out his own equations by graphics a bunch of data in a spreadsheet.

Obviously computing technology changes a bit quicker, but I still think that there are still concepts that serve you well and that don't really change in amongst all the other fads that come and goes. Interface and languages have been changing, and everything is getting more powerful, but we've not had any really new concepts since the internet. Virtual machines, parallel processing and thin client "cloud computing" style stuff have been around for decades, but people like to pretend that it's all shiny and new and that your experience becomes completely useless every couple of years..

As a young scientist in industry, in my company it looks like productivity is geometrically dependent on age. The 60 year old scientists are inventing left and right and solving problems across several disciplines on a regular basis while those of us in our 20s and early 30s are contributing much less broadly (and generally not a lot more deeply) because we don't have the experience to understand how the things we've learned in area A and what we read about area B should shape our strategy in solving a problem in area C.

i dissagree (1)

pigwiggle (882643) | more than 2 years ago | (#38437116)

This is hasn't been my experience. I've worked in a half dozen or so labs. Physics, chemistry, engineering - in academic labs, in a national lab, and have collaborated very closely with the research labs of an industry consortium of including 3M, Corning, P&G, and so forth. In every instance the older scientists direct the broad research goals, but have very little worthwhile input into the actual science. They haven't been all that creative or helpful. And the overall research goals are usually pretty obvious targets. From my experience, the life cycle of a scientists is they work hard when young and make a mark, then move up in the organisation structure until they are doing little more than managing a group of young scientists - and take credit for their work, of course.

Re:Well duh. (1)

nmr_andrew (1997772) | more than 2 years ago | (#38438530)

Of course the 60 year olds are all solving the broader problems. For all the hot phrases such as "interdisciplinary learning" or "crossing boundaries", for most people getting their Ph.D. these days the knowledge gained is incredibly focused on one area. You can't be merely "good" at a wide variety of things - although it helps, you need to be a bona fide expert in one or more areas and that's all you'll be hired for. In many labs, you're "trained" to do and to produce, not to think broadly. Nobody cares if you can solve problems or come up with big ideas UNLESS they lead to a publication, grant, or promotion for your adviser.

Re:Well duh. (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 2 years ago | (#38436182)

Virtual machines, parallel processing and thin client "cloud computing" style stuff have been around for decades, but people like to pretend that it's all shiny and new and that your experience becomes completely useless every couple of years.

I think it's a lot that in CS the tools shape the person far more than for an engineer, because the language becomes your way of expressing yourself. Your generic skills become a bit too abstract like learning linguistics, sure that will help you learn (human) languages but you still have to put down very much effort in learning the vocabulary and grammar, not to mention all the expressions and idiosyncrasies to learn each language. If it comes down to understanding or writing a German text I'd rather get one with a degree in German than one with French, Spanish and linguistics. And parallel programming, yes it's nothing "new" in the same way Japanese is nothing new but I'd still not expect them to take it up all that quickly. Of course you shouldn't overstate the differences either, C, C++, Objective-C and C# all have some common C heritage and the other languages weren't invented in a vacuum either. But you do often end up with the developer version of Google Translate, the words might look English but it's obviously a different language translated - and often far more poorly than Google does.

Re:Well duh. (2)

somersault (912633) | more than 2 years ago | (#38436800)

True, but for example, we've not really developed many (any?) more insights into parallel programming since the 70s or so.

I get that knowing the ins and outs of a language helps. Recently when adding something to a Perl script I first wrote 5 years ago, the whole thing ended up being half the size and much more maintainable. But the thing is that the program did work fine to start with. It's more important IMO to know how to program and be comfortable with using a reference manual for any language you may need than it is to be an expert in any single language. The only real distinctions that I think matter when it comes to programming languages are things like functional vs imperative, garbage collected or not, single vs multithreaded, and probably object oriented vs procedural. Those things involve different ways of thinking. But once you can program in C, you'll probably have no problem at all with any modern scripting language for example, as they're way easier to use. Learning a new computer language is often more akin to learning to understand a local dialect than it is learning a whole new language.

Re:Well duh. (1)

marcosdumay (620877) | more than 2 years ago | (#38436862)

So, you need a couple of months to get used to a completely different language. You can still learn thait while writting in other languages, and you can contribute code even before you are completely fluent on it. You'll write some slightly bad code, but it is much worse to get some random "programmer" (it's in quotation marks because more than 90% of the people that call themselves so don't deserve the name) that have no theoretical concepts at all.

Re:Well duh. (2)

Synn (6288) | more than 2 years ago | (#38437254)

Your comparison of computer languages to human languages isn't a very good one. Human languages tend to have simple rules and concepts, but large vocabularies to memorize. Computer languages have very small vocabularies, but deep rules and concepts.

Those concepts are very portable from language to language. How a variable works, classes, pointers(or references), databases, networking, lists, switches, OO models, etc don't really change. C has pointers, Java has references. Java has hibernate and rails has active record.

Take a good programmer with a long history of work and they can learn new languages pretty much on the fly. Though big shifts(switching to OO or designing things The Rails Way) can take a bit of learning.

Re:Well duh. (4, Interesting)

Fzz (153115) | more than 2 years ago | (#38436246)

One of the most difficult parts of science is knowing what questions are worth answering. Coming up with a good question - one that is worth answering and can be answered - is often the hardest part of a PhD. Younger scientists generally have more difficulty with this than older scientists - it is something that you get better at with experience and with making a good network of people you interchange ideas with. But often younger scientists are (or rapidly become) better at the fine details when pointed in the right direction, but getting that direction in the first place is crucial. All this points to collaboration between people of different generations as being a very pretty effective way to have impact.

As Michael Crichton once wrote... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38435666)

Thanks to this site [stjohns-chs.org] for hosting the excerpt that I couldn't remember verbatim. Emphasis mine.

"The raptors got out," Hammond said.
"Did they," Malcolm said, breathing shallowly. "How could that possibly happen?"
It was a system screwup. Arnold didn't realize that the auxiliary power was on and the fences cut out.”
“Did they?”
"Go to hell, you supercilious bastard."
“If I remember,” Malcolm said, “I predicted fence integrity would fail.”
Hammond sighed, and sat down heavily. "Damn it all" he said shaking his head. "It must surely not have escaped your notice that at heart what we are attempting here is an extremely simple ideal. My colleagues and I determined, several years ago, that it was possible to clone the DNA of an extinct animal, and to grow it. That seemed to us a wonderful idea, it was a kind of time travel--the only time travel in the world. Bring them back alive, so to speak.
And since it was so exciting, and since it was possible to do it, we decided to go forward. We got this island, and we proceeded. It was all very simple."
"Simple?" Malcolm said. Somehow he found the energy to sit up in the bed. "Simple? You're a bigger fool than I thought you were. And I thought you were a very substantial fool."
Ellie said, "Dr. Malcolm" and tried to ease him back down. But Malcolm would have none of it. He pointed to the radio, the shouts and the cries.
"What is that, going on out there?" he said . "That's your simple idea. Simple. You create new life-forms, about which you know nothing at all. Your Dr. Wu does not even know the names of the things he is creating. He cannot be bothered with such details as what the thing is called, let alone what it is. You create many of them in a very short time, you never learn anything about them, yet you expect them to do your bidding, because you made them, and you therefore think you own them; you forget that they are alive, they have an intelligence of their own, and they may not do your bidding, and you forget how little you know about them, how incompetent you are to do the things that you so frivolously call simple....Dear God..."
He sank back, coughing.
"You know what's wrong with scientific power?" Malcolm said.
"It’s a form of inherited wealth. And you know what assholes congenitally rich people are. It never fails."
Hammond said, "What is he talking about?”
Harding made a sign, indicating delirium. Malcolm cocked his eye.
"I will tell you what I am talking about," he said. "Most kinds of power require a substantial sacrifice by whoever wants the power. There is an apprenticeship, a discipline lasting many years. Whatever kind of power you want. President of the company. Black belt in karate. Spiritual guru. Whatever it is you seek, you have to put in the time, the practice, the effort. You must give up a lot to get it. It has to be very important to you. And once you have attained it, it’s your power. It can't be given away: it resides in you. It is literally the result of your discipline.
Now what is interesting about this process is that, by the time someone has acquired the ability to kill with his bare hands, he has also matured to the point where he won't use it unwisely. So that kind of power has a built-in control. The discipline of getting there changes you so that you won't abuse it.
But scientific power is like inherited wealth: attained without discipline. You read what others have done, and you take the next step. You can do it very young. You can make progress very fast.
There is no discipline lasting many decades. There is no mastery: old scientists are ignored. There is no humility before nature. There is only a get-rich-quick, make-a-name-for-yourself-fast philosophy.
Cheat, lie, falsify--it doesn't matter. Not to you, or to your colleagues. No one will criticize you. No one has any standards. They all trying to do the same thing: to do something big, and do it fast.
And because you can stand on the shoulders of giants, you can accomplish something quickly. You don't even know exactly what you have done, but already you have reported it; patented it, and sold it. And the buyer will have even less discipline than you. The buyer simply purchases the power, like any commodity. The buyer doesn’t even conceive that any discipline might be necessary."
Hammond said, "Do you know what he is talking about?"
Ellie nodded.
"I haven't a clue," Hammond said.
"I’ll make it simple," Malcolm said. "A karate master does not kill people with his bare hands. He does not lose his temper and kill his wife. The person who kills is the person who has no discipline, no restraint, and who has purchased his power in the form of a Saturday night special. And that is the kind of power that science fosters, and permits. And that is why you think that to build a place like this is simple."
"It was simple," Hammond insisted.
'Then why did it go wrong?"

Boomers forever!!! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38435680)

Bwahahahahahaha!

Gawd Not Kuhn (2, Insightful)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 2 years ago | (#38435696)

I can't think of a scientist or philosopher of science nowadays that actually agrees with many of Kuhn's conclusions. Even Kuhn himself backed off of them to some extent. Sadly, the only time Kuhn is even trotted out anymore is by post-modernists and advocates of quack science to try to denigrate actual scientists.

Age is having nothing to do with productivity (1)

AchilleTalon (540925) | more than 2 years ago | (#38435704)

Thomas Kuhn was wrong at my sense, the picture he made is one of his time. What is happening isn't related to a productivity peak at age X and a decrease after that. A scientist having made its reputation is less likely with age to risk it at the risk to lose everything. Older scientists are just becoming prudent in research subjects and investigations they want to make. But, they are still productive and clever peoples. Younger scientists on the other end have about nothing to lose early in their career and are then much more likely to do silly things and try risky avenues. Which sometimes pay and sometimes don't pay. And went it don't pay, we said they are learning. When the old scientist is doing sometime that doesn't pay, we say he is declining. Life is a bitch!

It is sad to read old dogs are shoot after a entire life dedicated to make their employer rich and famous and the world better.

Older scientists supervise and guide younger ones. (2)

Sir_Sri (199544) | more than 2 years ago | (#38435708)

It's true that younger researchers, myself included, tend to have a lot of ideas that can be tested and worked on. We put a lot of those on the back burner until you get tenure, that idea for a new programming language or a testing operating system or whatever, you just don't try and do that until you're secure, that's not until your mid 30's usually. My boss is about 38, and the moment he got tenure he shifted from one area of computer science into computer games, and now does research there. How 'high impact' it is I will let others to decide (unless he wants to pipe in with his own feedback...) but we do good work overall, and have a few best paper awards and so on. But now that he has tenure his managerial responsibilities are going up, and his direct time spent doing research goes down. Without him overseeing the whole programme though, we wouldn't have a programme at all, and that includes a couple of PhD researchers a couple more MSc's,, and god knows how many undergrads.

Once someone gets up to around 50 they start to know what they don't know, and they start to run out of a lot of radical new ideas of their own they can test. But they know enough about what *is* going on, and how the work is done that they can recognize, support, guide and even lead really high impact work, even if the genesis of the idea wasn't purely their own, or if they didn't have enough staff to do it before.

The thing with giving scientists early retirement is that a lot of them will continue to work for you, or for a local university or the like, and they will maintain their contacts with you. You get less work done in that scenario, or at least less immediately valuable work one, but you still get some, and it's now largely paid out of a different pocket book.

Re:Older scientists supervise and guide younger on (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38435776)

Full of yourself much?

Re:Older scientists supervise and guide younger on (1)

sdguero (1112795) | more than 2 years ago | (#38437118)

Totally agree. And i think it applies to Engineering as well. At my first job, I worked in an Engineering group with some grey hairs and am still stoked on the stuff I learned from the older guys. They help bring perspective to a group and I think it's important to have a mix of young and old, just like it's good to have a mix of cultures in a team. It hampers group think and makes people look outside their own paradigm.

After an interview with an older Unix guy at my last job (engineering team at a web marketing company), my manager said "he won't fit the culture. He's just too old" about a guy in his 50s that was by FAR the strongest candidate we interviewed. Everyone else already on the team was int their 20s, arrogant, and lacking in skillz/understanding of the stuff they were working on. I had already seen some red flags, but that was the last straw. I starting looking for a new job the next day... And now that company is in deep doodoo, needless to say I'm not surprised.

ageism (1)

Virtucon (127420) | more than 2 years ago | (#38435736)

Another ageism fundamentally disproved again with observation. As our population ages and has longer life expectancy it should be logical as well that productive individuals don't stop being productive at some specific point in their lives. While old age and treachery will always overcome yourht and skill, we have to get people out of the mindset that age or superannuated age doesn't mean a loss in productivity except in possibly physical activity. Just don't shove us into the grave sooner than necessary please.

Now get off my lawn you damn kids.

Re:ageism (2)

michael_cain (66650) | more than 2 years ago | (#38438814)

Whether this can work or not is problematic. When a worker aged 55+ loses a job, there are "good" reasons for firms to be reluctant to hire them. Two fairly obvious ones:
  • Once they're past 45, they're a member of a protected class with respect to discrimination. The case law on age discrimination is pretty clear: it doesn't matter what the motivation was, if there's a demonstrable history that layoffs fall disproportionately on the older workers, then the firm is in trouble. The easiest way out is to simply not hire older workers.
  • Particularly at smaller firms that provide health insurance benefits, hiring workers aged 55+ will result in significant hikes in the group premium. It's not anyone's "fault"; it's just that once people reach that age, they are much more likely to develop expensive-to-treat degenerative conditions like cataracts, cancer, or complications from arthritis.

I have long argued that the first social crisis the Boomer generation (full disclosure: I'm a member) will precipitate will not be their effect on Social Security or Medicare; it will be that the US private sector is unable or unwilling to provide meaningful employment for the Boomers who want/need to continue working into their late 60s and 70s.

looks poorly controlled (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 2 years ago | (#38435744)

I see no sign that they've considered the impact of reputation on publishing. Their graphs seem to show exactly what I would expect from cronyism. Publishing rises steadily as profs work to secure tenure, then drops off (but not as fast as you might otherwise expect, because reputation secures easier publishing).

Low hanging fruit (1)

gutnor (872759) | more than 2 years ago | (#38435750)

Since the low hanging fruits of fundamental science have basically been found already, it just require more time to get the knowledge required to find some new place to dig. Statistically, you will also fail more often the more advanced the subject with less chance of bonus side effects, requiring again more time on average to produce something significant.

Just imagine the amount of knowledge and experience required just to be a simple peon on the LHC, and that only where it starts nowadays. Until we have the technology to imprint knowledge in the brain, invent some revolutionary knowledge processing technology (like an AI that could provide human with the same knowledge processing power as computer did for computation processing power), there is not workaround to the limitation of the brain. You need more experience, even if, by the time you have it, you are not longer at your brainpower peak.

I am not sure... (1)

DdJ (10790) | more than 2 years ago | (#38435786)

..that it's in our best interests, as a society, to have legions of unemployed scientists out there with a grudge against those fools at the academy...

Haven't several studies shown... (1)

rsilvergun (571051) | more than 2 years ago | (#38435802)

that people skilled in math tend to retain those skills in old age? Same goes for any science (since you can't get away from Math if you're doing real science; heck, even social science needs complex statistical analysis).

Went on a tour of CERN... (2)

hughk (248126) | more than 2 years ago | (#38435836)

First, there isn't a whole lot to see as you won't get access to the tunnels with a running beam line. What you do get is a presntation from the tour guide. Ours was a semi-retired CERN researcher, probably in his seventies who was a doctor of physics and a former professor.

It seems that CERN has a number of these "hangers-on" who may no longer be doing much work there, but still have some access and contribute. Even looking after visitors is useful work and it was very clear that he was still in full communication with his former colleagues whilst talking about the neutrino experiments.

Breaking News Update: (1)

Azure Flash (2440904) | more than 2 years ago | (#38435850)

Older People Still Capable Of Working, But Nobody Cares. Employers Still Looking For Teenagers With 5-10 Years Of Experience.

One of my colleagues just turned 70 (5, Insightful)

RogerWilco (99615) | more than 2 years ago | (#38435940)

I have colleagues of all ages. Each have their advantages.

What really makes people productive ad higher ages is continuous will to keep learning.

One of my colleagues just turned 70 yesterday and I'd take him any day over the 45-50 year olds at my first employer, as they hadn't learned a new thing in the last 20 years, while the guy who could be my father learned Python last year.

Keep learning!

Asimov wrote the same thing at the age of 70.

The amount of information has exploded (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38436106)

Things used to be simpler. Really. For any given field, there is many times as much information as there used to be.

A couple of hundred years ago, someone could be a scientist and a philosopher and a gentleman. He could make discoveries in physics, chemistry and math. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humphry_Davy [wikipedia.org]

Now, it takes a lifetime to become familiar with a reasonable portion of one field. The old guys are productive because they know more than the younger scientists. They become unproductive when they run out of energy.

We used to think that the brain developed by weeding out connections. We thought that mental decline started in the twenties. Thanks to modern neurology, we know that the brain may continue to develop as we age. It's a matter of "use it or lose it". If a scientist keeps working hard, he will be every bit as intelligent and, therefore, productive as his younger counterparts.

Re:The amount of information has exploded (2)

TeknoHog (164938) | more than 2 years ago | (#38438178)

Things used to be simpler. Really. For any given field, there is many times as much information as there used to be.

A couple of hundred years ago, someone could be a scientist and a philosopher and a gentleman.

I'm a physicist today, so fuck you!

Re:The amount of information has exploded (1)

gtall (79522) | more than 2 years ago | (#38439390)

There there, try the little yellow pills, they work best with a bit of alcohol and some bed rest.

Nobel Prize is never awarded posthumously (1)

A. D. D. Roosevelt (2532748) | more than 2 years ago | (#38436240)

The Nobel Prize is never awarded posthumously and it often takes deacdes for a discovery to achieve wide enough acceptance to be awarded the prize, so it's never going to be awarded to someone who does their prize-winning work late in life and doesn't live long enough for it to be accepted.

Corporations care about.... (3, Insightful)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 2 years ago | (#38436244)

Profit margins and nothing else.

They dont care about product quality, innovation or anything other than how much more did we make this next quarter...
If they can hire young fools for less pay and abuse them, they are happy with the substandard product they get out of them. It had a higher profit margin.

Yes Kids. your PHD in physics is a joke compared to the old fart that has actually worked in the field for decades after he got his PHD. He does in fact know more than you do.

Re:Corporations care about.... (1)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | more than 2 years ago | (#38438560)

Yes Kids. your PHD in physics is a joke compared to the old fart that has actually worked in the field for decades after he got his PHD. He does in fact know more than you do.

More to the point is that sometimes education wins over experience, but not always. It all really depends on the situation. I have 25+ years working on just about every Unix platform known (and some Windows) and about 10 programming languages. If nothing else, I know a little about a LOT of things and can put that knowledge together. For example, some younger/newer employees know more about Java (using Eclipse) than I do, but their problem solving skills or system integration skills are underdeveloped (or lacking) and often my programming solutions work better as I have a better understanding of the whole, not just the parts. (and my Emacs skills can eat Eclipse for lunch w/fries) In the longer run, I can shore up my individual skills faster than someone else can acquire the broad range of knowledge I've earned through my years of experience. Just my $.02.

Productivity reduces with Tenure (1)

Perl-Pusher (555592) | more than 2 years ago | (#38436280)

I have found that once the professor has tenure, his output is reduced to having his name added to papers he didn't have much input on and classes taught by grad students. Age isn't the issue.

Not so fast... (2)

korgitser (1809018) | more than 2 years ago | (#38436304)

The difference between old and young scientists is experience and knowledge. Because of these, the old have a cognitive bias against new information, and the young have a bias against old information. So of course it is easier for the young to think of new ways of doing things. But let's not forget that the old ways are not just random, they have reason and meaning.
So the conservative says 'we will not tolerate you fucking up this shit' and the liberal says 'we will not tolerate your fucked up shit'. Both have their point, but how it actually should work out is dependent on the exact matter at hand. If the modern corporation wants to replace people, it should have a clear idea what problem it is trying to solve. The current submission seems to be about using Kuhn to justify getting rid of experienced people for the short-term benefit on the bottom line. This is just plain doing it wrong. By the practical effect, I would call it in-house outsourcing.

work of who (2)

tahyk (1447177) | more than 2 years ago | (#38436376)

So how they count/calculate the productivity of a professor? phd students included? Don't you think that the productivity depends more on the size of your group (aka the number of slaves) rather than on the personal skills?

Yeah but ... (0)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 2 years ago | (#38436380)

Modern corporations seem to have devalued older scientists. They are all to happy to have their veteran employees, scientists included, take an early retirement so that they can be replaced by younger people who expect fewer benefits and will work for lower pay.

One of the reason the older scientists are still productive is they can spell and use grammar correctly.

If Slashdot is any indication, modern science must be full of mis-uses of "their, there, and they're" and other lovely bits of broken grammar people don't seem to learn in school any more.

Damned kids, get off my lawn.

This argues to get RID of older scientists... (1)

Troyusrex (2446430) | more than 2 years ago | (#38436382)

If scientific productivity stops increasing at age 50 as the article says, but salaries of older scientists are almost certainly higher the older and more experienced they are this is really saying you should get rid of older scientists who are providing less productivity per dollar spent on them as the years go on. This data doesn't defend older scientists but shows that companies are wise to get them to take early retirement. (These aren't my opinions, just what is the obvious result of the data provided)

Re:This argues to get RID of older scientists... (1)

jpapon (1877296) | more than 2 years ago | (#38438026)

You could make the same argument about factory workers... but even if that's true all it leads us to is a 10k sponsored by Logan.

Paradigm Shifts are just marketing (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38436402)

The reality is that science advances in small, incremental steps, building on prior knowledge and theories. But that doesn't make a good story for Hollywood or for people who want to make a name for themselves. It is much more exciting (and self-serving) to claim that one is a super-hero who revolutionized some sort of technology. It appeals to those who crave hero-worship. The dot-com era was just awful in terms of marketing people trying to spin technology for the masses and really dd a terrible disservice for science everywhere. The overwhelming flood of bogus patents claiming that trivial combinations of existing ideas were somehow novel inventions is just one consequence of this mindset.

The wealth of human knowledge is very large at this time. It takes time, lots of time, in order to actually learn enough of what mankind currently knows before one can even get to the edges of current human knowledge and actually figure out something which has not been figured out before. That means that scientists who are really figuring out new facts & theories will have to be older simply in order to have enough time to learn enough of what is already known so that they are actually at the edge.

At last (3, Informative)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | more than 2 years ago | (#38436444)

When I was a graduate student at Yale my advisor was a dude by the name of John Fenn. Very energetic and not at all ready to retire at 70. However he was forced into retirement and smaller lab spaces because of ageist university policies. At 70 or so he completed work on a GC-MS technique that won him a share of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

That technique was key to the development of protease inhibitors.

Re:At last (1)

gtall (79522) | more than 2 years ago | (#38439542)

Anecdotal evidence is just that, anecdotal. Being an older scientist myself, my response to the people who believe society should only value someone for their monetary contributions is that they will only be happy when they have reduced society to its lowest, most base level of human behavior. Older people are capable of contributing many things for which a dollar value is impossible to obtain...not that that would stop your basic Business School Product from attempting to do so. Business School Product generally believe they will get out with their golden parachute, contributing to the success of a company or other organization isn't something they generally care about, but the rest of us normal people should.

Same thing in teaching, and other professions (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38436750)

School districts routinely apply pressure on the veteran teachers so they'll quit or retire early. Then they can hire multiple new teachers straight out of college for the same price.

Is this a good idea? Well the veteran teachers know how to control the classroom, how to discipline the kids, and have a lifetime of experience about what works and what doesn't. The Melinda & Bill Gates Foundation found that veteran teachers always had kids with the best scores and the most positive classroom experiences.

The new teachers have no skill, no experience, beyond a brief stint of student teaching. Frequently the experience is difficult and there's a high turnover rate of new teachers that give up after 1-3 years.

In the end, school districts have one priority: saving money. If this negatively impacts education, so be it -- the administrators have very little contact with the schools and are more interested in climbing the ladder. To them, getting rid of a good expensive teacher to get several poor teachers is a good move and something they'd boast about.

Ageism is a terrible thing. Disclaimer: My parents are two retired Teacher of the Year recipients who both taught high school for over 30 years each and saw a lot of good talent come and go. Their experience was the same despite my mom teaching in a upper-class yuppie school district and my dad teaching in a poverty-stricken lower-class school district.

The only real difference is that rich parents tend to be able to pull enough strings to get administrators to retain the very best veteran teachers, but that doesn't happen as often as it should.

Re:Same thing in teaching, and other professions (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38438350)

How many years of experience does a teacher need before their classroom management skills mature? Is it not logical to offer a teacher with 30 years experience the option to retire early, so you can make room for 3 replacements. In 5 years they will likely be happy, productive teachers. It would be a bonus if you could offer the retiring teacher another year or two of (full- or part-time) work to mentor the newbies. It is not always about ageism. Sometimes it is about being practical with a buck.

Need more data (1)

azadrozny (576352) | more than 2 years ago | (#38436834)

I liked his data showing that older scientists are still productive. What I did not see was his data showing that they are being pushed out in great numbers. Are companies truly pushing them out in greater numbers (as a percentage of population) or does it just seem that way because there are more people in the 40+ age bracket? This is all coming down to economics. What are senior scientists doing to justify the higher pay they usually demand? There is only so much room at the top of the org chart. As your career progresses you have to produce more/better work product. Your alternatives are to work for less, or be "flushed" out.

They miss something critical here... (1)

tibit (1762298) | more than 2 years ago | (#38436932)

The idea that the only indicator of a scientists' value is some measure of "scientific productivity" is fundamentally braindead. I'd say their value may well be in guiding their young team, providing sage advice, and otherwise mediating things where the young ones may lack the social or political skill. There's no way to measure it only looking at the published output, and quite likely no way to quantify it at all without conducting extensive interviews with people who actually work under/next to those old "farts".

It's all about headcount... (2)

ConceptJunkie (24823) | more than 2 years ago | (#38436934)

Most companies don't give a damn about experience or seniority or anything else. Most managers will look at the math and say "3 junior scientists at x salary is worth far more than 1 senior scientist at 3x salary" regardless of who the scientists are and what they've accomplished.

At least if research organizations are run like software development organizations.

Re:It's all about headcount... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38437392)

I'm an R&D engineering manager, and I don't see it that way at all. I see it as: 1 senior at 3x salary produces at (say) 2.5x, but also boosts junior productivity to 1.5x. The senior also reduces the risk of catastrophic fuckups by a factor of (at least) 4. In other words, I pair the senior with a junior or two or three and make sure we've got some mentoring going on.

I punch those numbers into my calculator and it makes a happy face.

Software development is notorious for being run like a sweatshop. Your work is viewed as an easily outsourced commodity. I'm a bit surprised you guys never had the foresight to unionize.

Obvious bias with Nobel Prizes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38436978)

1) Nobel Prizes can only be awarded to LIVING scientists.
2) Nobel Prizes can be awarded decades after the work in question

3) If you do the work at 60 and the award is 20 years afterwards you start to lose scientists and its unseemly to give an award to someone who is not in their prime.

Re:Obvious bias with Nobel Prizes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38437416)

2) Nobel Prizes can be awarded decades after the work in question

From the article: "Age at which cited work was done for the Nobel Chemistry Prize."

LIFE EXPECTANCY PEOPLE! It used to be shorter! (2)

theshowmecanuck (703852) | more than 2 years ago | (#38436986)

Come ON people! In 1900 the average life expectancy of a male in the U.S.A. was only 46 [berkeley.edu] years for Pete's sake. No wonder on average most of the 'BIG' work was done before age 40. In 1940 life expectancy was 60 years, and in 1960 it was 66. Considering that even 50 years ago, as people approached these ages many were in nowhere near as good good health as people are today when approaching end of life [sciencedaily.com] , so they likely weren't productive at anything in the last few years (back then smoking was advertised as good for your health... heavy bacon and eggs was a 'healthy' breakfast, exercise was not part of the urban or the new 'drive everywhere' suburban vocabulary, etc etc. etc.).

Now we have a life expectancy of over 80 years old in some countries like Canada and some Western European countries. Heck even in the U.S. with it's criticized health care system the average age is over 77.5. And to top it off, people are in much, much better health all the way to within a couple of years of the end. I see people who are in their 70s now-a-days who like folks who were in their 60s or younger a few decades ago. Mind you there are still people living unhealthy life styles, but they are the ones who are keeping the life expectancy averages lower than they could be (i.e. they die earlier than they should).

For a good example of how modern health care keeps us "younger" as we age, look at the Afghan girl (in a Pakistani refugee camp) that was on the iconic front cover of National Geographic in 1984. And then how she looked in 2002 [nationalgeographic.com] . When she was maybe 13, 14, or 15 she captured the worlds attention with her stunning eyes and the photo became one of the most viewed in the world. They went back in 2002 to find her. She had gone back to Afghanistan and had 4 children (one had died by then... life expectancy...) and even though they figured she was between 26 and 29 then (even she wasn't sure) she looked like a 45 or 50 year old woman, maybe older in Europe or North America. Interestingly and sadly, the average life expectancy in Afghanistan today is the same as what it was in America in 1900. Think about it.

So this whole notion of looking back and making judgements about what we should expect our productive ages to be is utter horseshit. Because of advances in medicine, better food, and better life style in general, the only way to determine when someone is less productive is when they are less productive. To arbitrarily say that after 50 you aren't able to think anymore is something that someone who doesn't think to begin with would say. No matter how old they are. We live far longer, and healthier lives. Therefore our productive years are far longer. That is the bottom line.

Re:LIFE EXPECTANCY PEOPLE! It used to be shorter! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38439200)

Averages are heavily skewed when you include people at ages 1. The ones who make it live a long time if you leave out war and other unnatural causes. Infant and birth related care + excluding unnatural death makes lifespans not change that much.

Science is specific. (1)

v(*_*)vvvv (233078) | more than 2 years ago | (#38437022)

Firstly, this over-generalization of scientific productivity by age group is completely irrelevant unless we are having some age group contest. Scientists do extremely specific work, none of which is ambiguous. Specificity is part of the craft. A scientist who is ambiguous about their research hasn't gotten anywhere.

Secondly, the nature of research and publication, as well as their cycles, are vast and highly dependent on the scientific community that surrounds that research, as well as the environment in which that research is being done. For example, imagine a Physics professor at an ivy league university, and compare him with a chemist that works in a lab at a giant corporation. Most universities conducting research are open and public, aiming for advancement in the field. Most corporations conducting independent research are secretive, aiming for patents and advancement in their respective markets. Scientific productivity is as much the result of a community or group as it is the product of any one man's talent or inspiration.

Finally, these inferences into how the behavior of a young scientist differs from an old scientist are stereotypical, and would only contribute to prejudice at best. Any scientist with real talent would most likely be aware of it, and it is that awareness that matters more than any age bracket. Scientists know when they are on to something. They tend to believe strongly in their work, regardless of age. That belief is what is important and it can be measured.

Quality not quantity (1)

hessian (467078) | more than 2 years ago | (#38437390)

Summary: it's the quality of the researcher that determines whether or not they can do significant research throughout their lifespan.

Younger people have more energy and more drive, but someone of a powerful intellect and insight is going to generate useful material for the whole of his or her life.

This isn't limited to science. Great composers, writers, artists and philosophers tended to be productive for the whole of their lives.

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