Wednesday, November 9, 2011

New science from old men

A new study says:
Scientists under the age of 40 used to make the majority of significant breakthroughs in chemistry, physics and medicine – but that is no longer the case, new research suggests.

A study of Nobel Laureates from 1901 to 2008 in these three fields examined the age at which scientists did their prize-winning work.

Results showed that before 1905, about two-thirds of winners in all three fields did their prize-winning work before age 40, and about 20 percent did it before age 30.

But by 2000, great achievements before age 30 nearly never occurred in any of the three fields. In physics, great achievements by age 40 only occurred in 19 percent of cases by the year 2000, and in chemistry, it nearly never occurred.

"The image of the brilliant young scientist who makes critical breakthroughs in science is increasingly outdated, at least in these three disciplines," said Bruce Weinberg, co-author of the study and professor of economics at Ohio State University.

"Today, the average age at which physicists do their Nobel Prize winning work is 48. Very little breakthrough work is done by physicists under 30."
A previous study said that Nobel work peak in the 30s. Einstein supposedly said, "A person who has not made his great contribution to science before the age of thirty will never do so", but I have not verified that quote.

A lot of the credit for Einstein depends on this myth. Relativity was invented by men who had well-established careers, but the paradigm shift academics say that only a 25-year-old outsider like Einstein could have revolutionized physics. Thomas Kuhn's famous book said:
Almost always the men who achieve these fundamental inventions of a new paradigm have been either very young or very new to the field whose paradigm they change.*88 And perhaps that point need not have been made explicit, for obviously these are the men who, being little com-mitted by prior practice to the traditional rules of normal science, are particularly likely to see that those rules no longer define a playable game and to conceive another set that can replace them. The resulting transition to a new paradigm is scientific revolution;... [p.90]

[footnote 88] This generalization about the role of youth in fundamental scientific research is so common as to be a cliché. Furthermore, a glance at almost any list of fundamental contributions to scientific theory will provide impressionistic confirmation. ...

What is the process by which a new candidate for paradigm replaces its predecessor? Any new interpretation of nature, whether a discovery or a theory, emerges first in the mind of one or a few individuals. It is they who first learn to see science and the world differently, and their ability to make the transition is facilitated by two circumstances that are not common to most other members of their profession. Invariably their attention has been intensely concentrated upon the crisis-provoking problems; usually, in addition, they are men so young or so new to the crisis-ridden field that practice has committed them less deeply than most of their contemporaries to the world view and rules determined by the old paradigm. [p.144]
As the above study shows, most of the great ideas have come from older scientists. It takes many years of study to learn enough to make a big contribution.

Kuhn's paradigm shift theory is the leading philosophy of science today, but it is nonsense, as explained in my book.

No comments:

Post a Comment