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Rob Sheldon responds to demand to get rid of elderly scientists

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We are informed that the oldsters are an expensive drag on the system. The writer’s main experience is with the troubled public health field, where he says:

For example, the amount of public money going to researchers aged 56-70 doubled from the 1990 to 2010. And the number of taxpayer funded researchers over the age of 70 increased over 700% from the 1980s to 2000s while the number of grantees under 45 decreased. So while young investigators are most likely to make significant discoveries, they are much less likely to be funded…

Not surprisingly, the lack of accountability in taxpayer funded science has led to an ever-increasing frequency of retractions, and sexual harassment and fraud and misconduct investigations of researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and US Department of Agriculture (USDA). Yet even when these researchers are found guilty of misconduct, they continue to receive hundreds of millions of taxpayer’s dollars; sometimes into their eighth decade of life… Edward Archer], “Elderly Researchers Are a Drain on Publicly Funded Science” at RealClearScience

Hey, wait a minute. A person in the eighth decade is only 71. Is that supposed to be “old” now?

Anyway, our physics color commentator Rob Sheldon responds,

This is a deeply ironic article. After claiming that brilliance belongs to the youth, they cite anecdotal evidence both for the brilliance of youth and the errors of age. They then top it off with an argument that old people are useless bread gobblers.

On the other hand, if they had actually done their homework, instead of rebelling against their parents, they would have learned what we knew by 2011:

— “The investigators found that great scientific achievement before age 30 was indeed common in all disciplines before 1905. About two-thirds of winners in these fields did their prize-winning work before age 40, and about 20 percent did it before 30.

However, contrary to what Einstein once said, this phenomenon has become increasingly rare.

“The age at which scientists make important contributions is getting older over time,” Weinberg told LiveScience.

By 2000, great work before age 30 almost never happened in any of the three fields. In physics, great achievements by age 40 occurred in only 19 percent of cases by the year 2000, and in chemistry, it almost never occurred.” – Charles Q. Choi,, “The Stroke of Genius Strikes Later in Modern Life” at Live Science

And as for the disadvantages of youth, I’d like to point out that almost every federal funding agency has “early career” grants that I’m too old for, even though I’ve jumped from one career to another as I tried to outrun the blacklisting gatekeepers. So indeed, it isn’t the young that are getting shafted, but those whose careers grow horizontally.

And finally. When China began its “Cultural Revolution” in 1966, it was the young who were recruited to shut down the universities, to turn in their parents, to destroy the infrastructure. There is a reason why youth is at a disadvantage in grants and appointments. And it has nothing to do with genius.

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The Long Ascent: Genesis 1â  11 in Science & Myth, Volume 1 by [Sheldon, Robert]

Rob Sheldon is the author of Genesis: The Long Ascent

See also, re longevity: Researcher: Ancient people were NOT all dead by 30 years of age This matter is worth clarifying because people arguing dubious claims about the mindset of ancient man sometimes assume that few people were around much beyond thirty years of age. But enough of them were around that the lifespan of 70 to 80 years was accepted as the norm for a human being, irrespective of the percentage of the population that reached it.

Is aging a “disease” or does it have an “evolutionary purpose”?

Study: Religiously affiliated people lived “9.45 and 5.64 years longer…”

and

Anomaly: Human mortality hits a plateau after 105 years of age From Discover Magazine: “ That is, you aren’t any more likely to die at 110 than at 105. It’s a contradictory finding, because mortality ticks steadily upward as we get older at all previous ages.”

4 Replies to “Rob Sheldon responds to demand to get rid of elderly scientists

  1. 1
    vmahuna says:

    OK, this simply wanders all over creation without ever taking any clear stand. Is the complaint at the beginning of the piece supposed to be refuted by the wandering later on? And if so, why bring the topic up at all? Oh, wait, perhaps there is some senility involved…

  2. 2
    kairosfocus says:

    Oh for the magical age of 26.

  3. 3
    Bob O'H says:

    I’m not sure which piece Vmahuna is referring to – I do hope it’s not Denyse’s! 🙂

  4. 4
    vmahuna says:

    Oh, I forgot to mention that the old accepted fact was that smart guys (Newton, Einstein, etc.) did ALL their interesting work before they hit 30, and then lounged around for the rest of their lives fiddling with obscure details. So if you want NEW Science, you probably want to fund YOUNG scientists. If you want even more arguments, with no progress, on questionable subatomic particles and the multiverse and why Life evolved from rocks, then keep funding the old guys.

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