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Superannuated Scientists Still Productive 117

Posted by timothy
from the anonymous-ice-floe-pictures-help dept.
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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Superannuated Scientists Still Productive

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  • by sidthegeek (626567) on Tuesday December 20, 2011 @11:56AM (#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.
    • by Defenestrar (1773808) on Tuesday December 20, 2011 @12:30PM (#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.

      • 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
        • Never met a feet-firster? Someone determined to keep their lab/office until they've got to be carried out feet first?
          • Never quite understood it home > work in my case, but maybe I'm the crazy one.
            • 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.
            • by ILongForDarkness (1134931) on Tuesday December 20, 2011 @02:22PM (#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.
              • by Grishnakh (216268)

                Your spouse doesn't have to be dead; with today's divorce stats, you could very well find yourself divorced, even at that age. It doesn't happen as much with older people, but it does happen.

          • by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968@NOspaM.gmail.com> on Tuesday December 20, 2011 @05:59PM (#38440774) Journal

            I have, kinda sad really. They pretty much HAD to keep the guy since he was the only one that knew the old machines and the old code running on said old machines but when I was changing out his gear during the upgrade cycle I could hear him muttering "Is that VB, no that's C, now why did i put Java in there?" and you could see he was starting to struggle to keep the stuff straight in his head.

            I'm just glad i was only doing the work to help out an overworked friend and didn't have to be there when they finally let him go, because he really was a sweet old guy, just as nice as nice could be, but you could tell he was spending more time trying to figure out what language went where than he was actually coding. You just hate to see something like that, you really do. Its almost like watching a prize fighter that was good back in the day trying to keep going and you just want to tell him "stay down man, c'mon, just let it go already" because you know when they finally have to let the guy go its just gonna be sad and bitter and ugly.

      • by ediron2 (246908) on Tuesday December 20, 2011 @09:08PM (#38443046) Journal

        Thus emeritus or 'advisory scientist' roles. I knew one that became lab/departmental machinist, and was delighted to shift to where he was teamed with a junior C&C hacker. While he had no aspirations of becoming a C&C programmer, he could instinctively tell the junior machinist things like: slow the mill down for a finer precision, do a preliminary cut here to check tolerances before doing the tightest work, lap/anodize/cut/coat/anneal instead of mill, and asking apt questions like: would material X work better?, etc. And he was still involved in lab activities, still had a place to hang his coat, still saw colleagues regularly, etc.

        A few years later, I worked on a semiconductor fab expansion project. It had two old engineers on temporary staff. Both had returned to field engineering after retiring. They were happy to be busy and contributing, even if they were just field engineers with a rank next to mine: tracking projects and punchlists and helping coordinate subcontractor jobs. I'm sure they weren't making 3x my entry-level salary, and I'm equally sure it was less about seniority-level pay than about doing substantive work.

        There are plenty of alternatives along the spectrum, including honorary slots, part-time jobs, and reduced pay and responsibility. Even the adjacent comment about an old guy saying 'which is this, java or vb'... I'll ignore the part where I regularly look at my own code and mutter 'Who the fuck wrote THIS and why?'. Sometimes, who the f*** cares if a coworker's showing signs from age -- At least try to find tasks appropriate for the worker and *cowboy up* and discuss their future salary with them to see if it'll work. You might be surprised at how balancing hours and salary and workload can keep expertise and still be cost-effective.

        Or you can go on presuming that an old guy or gal still working after retirement age is only there for the money... jeez. If I had a choice between coding into my 80's and either just playing golf or greeting people at walmart, I know which one would keep me saner.

      • Every job should be rated. Level 6 being the top non-managerial job, and 3x level 5 salary should be top salary.

        I was a boss, and with 7 different functional groups under me, it was all that I could manage, including my own time. Every leader of each group took about 15% of my time, and only one day a week, did I need overtime for myself. (Not every week).

        So, if I manage 7, and these subordinates manage 7, etc. the pyramid can grow high quickly. But each of the 7 had 25 under them, with the 25 doing common

    • by TWX (665546)

      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 developm

  • Obligatory Futurama reference.

  • by Anonymous Coward

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

    • by cshark (673578)
      Don't tell that to the "I hate anyone over 35" crowd.
    • 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.

  • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot@h a c k i sh.org> on Tuesday December 20, 2011 @12:01PM (#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.

    • by Surt (22457) on Tuesday December 20, 2011 @12:31PM (#38435936) Homepage Journal

      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.

    • by Defenestrar (1773808) on Tuesday December 20, 2011 @12:42PM (#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.
      • by cashman73 (855518) on Tuesday December 20, 2011 @03:41PM (#38438772) Journal
        Let's not forget about who actually did most of the work [wikipedia.org] now, shall we?
      • by Grishnakh (216268)

        Maybe in the past they were good at spotting the difference. These days, the people on Nobel committees are so stupid they gave Obama a Peace Prize when he hadn't even done anything, and then after he got the prize he showed himself to big just as much a warmonger as Bush. If the Nobel people today are that dumb, then you certainly can't count on them to do the right thing with science awards.

        As for Watson/Crick, that was ages ago, in 1953. Things are very different these days, and the people on the Nobe

        • by ckaminski (82854)
          Don't confuse the Nobel Prize in Whatever with the Nobel Peace Prize...

          Though I do agree with you that the awarding of said prize was pretty fucking premature.
    • by cranky_chemist (1592441) on Tuesday December 20, 2011 @12:59PM (#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.

      • 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...

  • by tverbeek (457094) on Tuesday December 20, 2011 @12:07PM (#38435592) Homepage

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

  • by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Tuesday December 20, 2011 @12:07PM (#38435598) Homepage

    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: (Score:1, Flamebait)

      by MightyMartian (840721)

      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.

      • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot@h a c k i sh.org> on Tuesday December 20, 2011 @12:18PM (#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.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 20, 2011 @12:22PM (#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.

  • Well duh. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by somersault (912633) on Tuesday December 20, 2011 @12:08PM (#38435622) Homepage Journal

    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. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Colonel Korn (1258968) on Tuesday December 20, 2011 @12:19PM (#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.

      • by H0p313ss (811249)

        The secret is to start at D and then prove C, B and A by induction.

      • 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 pr

      • 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
    • by Kjella (173770)

      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 o

      • 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 n

      • 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.

      • by Synn (6288)

        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 a

    • Re:Well duh. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Fzz (153115) on Tuesday December 20, 2011 @12:52PM (#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.
  • Gawd Not Kuhn (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MightyMartian (840721) on Tuesday December 20, 2011 @12:14PM (#38435696) Journal

    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.

  • 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 an

  • by Sir_Sri (199544) on Tuesday December 20, 2011 @12:15PM (#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.

    • by sdguero (1112795)
      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
  • 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

    • 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 s
  • 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).

  • 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 hav

  • ..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...

  • 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).
  • by hughk (248126) on Tuesday December 20, 2011 @12:25PM (#38435836) Journal

    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.

  • Older People Still Capable Of Working, But Nobody Cares. Employers Still Looking For Teenagers With 5-10 Years Of Experience.
  • I couldn't get past "They are all to happy". YOU. HAPPY! Now! DO IIIIIITTTTT! Everybody!

  • by RogerWilco (99615) on Tuesday December 20, 2011 @12:31PM (#38435940) Homepage Journal

    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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 20, 2011 @12:43PM (#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.

    • by TeknoHog (164938)

      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!

      • by gtall (79522)

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

  • 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.
  • by Lumpy (12016) on Tuesday December 20, 2011 @12:52PM (#38436244) Homepage

    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.

    • 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 togeth

  • 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.
  • by korgitser (1809018) on Tuesday December 20, 2011 @12:55PM (#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.

  • 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?
  • 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 peop

  • 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
  • by Anonymous Coward

    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 disse

  • At last (Score:4, Informative)

    by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Tuesday December 20, 2011 @01:07PM (#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.

    • by gtall (79522)

      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 gen

  • 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.

    T

  • 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
  • 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

  • by ConceptJunkie (24823) on Tuesday December 20, 2011 @01:42PM (#38436934) Homepage Journal

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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 w

  • 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.

  • Maybe it has something to do with the fact that modern science is usually done by a group of scientists rather than people working alone. I guess that older scientists are more likely to hold an administrative position allowing them to have a team, lab or a bunch of grad students working for them.

If I'd known computer science was going to be like this, I'd never have given up being a rock 'n' roll star. -- G. Hirst

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