Monday, February 10, 2014

The Aging of Genius

Geniuses are getting older. That's the conclusion of a National Bureau of Economic Research literature review and analysis. During the 20th century, the average age of great achievement (defined as winning a Nobel Prize or inventing a new technology) increased by six years according to a study, cited in the NBER paper, of 544 Nobel winners and 286 technological innovators.

One theory posited for the rising age of scientific genius is the growing length of time required for training. "To the extent that expertise over some range of existing knowledge is an essential input to the creative process in science, the expansion of extant theories, facts, methods, et cetera, can create a rising 'burden of knowledge' on successive generations of scientists," say the authors.

The aging of genius can mean less genius overall and may even change the direction of scientific progress, according to the authors' analysis. "There is, in effect, less time for genius to act like one," they explain. In addition, "if early life-cycle innovative capacity is increasingly truncated by training demands, then it is possible that the nature of achievements would shift from conceptual toward experimental reasoning. Thus contributions may become increasingly biased against deep, conceptual novelty."

Source: National Bureau of Economic Research, Age and Scientific Genius, NBER Working Paper 19866

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