Great Achievement at Young Age Function of Time, Not Field

Age dynamics tied to proportion of theoretical work, age of attainment of foundation knowledge

MONDAY, Nov. 7 (HealthDay News) -- The frequency of great scientific achievements at young age is a function of time, and not related to the field, according to a study published online Nov. 7 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Benjamin F. Jones, from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and Bruce A. Weinberg, from the National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, Mass., investigated at what age scientists tend to produce great ideas, focusing on great scientific achievements of the 20th Century by Nobel Prize winners in physics, chemistry, and medicine.

The investigators found that there were large shifts over time in the mean age of peak creativity, during which the Nobel Laureates did their prize-winning work. The mean age of prize-winning work increased over time in all fields, with the size of these differences much larger than the differences between fields. The mean age at Nobel Laureates' great achievements was related to the theoretical versus empirical content of their contribution and the age at which they attained a high degree, with theorists making great achievements years earlier than empiricists. A temporary increase in the proportion of physics Nobel Laureates who did their prize-winning work at young ages in 1934 was matched by the mid-1930s peak in prevalence of theoretical contributions, and the tendency to receive a Ph.D. at a young age during the same period.

"This article demonstrates that the frequency of great achievements at young ages is more a function of time than field," the authors write.

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