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The Stroke of Genius Strikes Later In Life Than It Used To

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the i-blame-reality-tv dept.

Science 162

InfiniteZero writes with this quote from MSNBC: "Einstein once said, 'A person who has not made his great contribution to science before the age of 30 will never do so.' That peak age has shifted considerably, a new study found, with 48 being prime time for physicists. ... For instance, in physics, in the early 20th century, a rise in young scientists generating prize-winning work coincided with the development of quantum mechanics. In fact, in 1923, the proportion of physicists who did their breakthrough work by age 30 peaked at 31 percent. Those who did their best work by age 40 peaked in 1934 at 78 percent. The proportion of physics laureates producing Nobel Prize-winning work under age 30 or 40 then declined throughout the rest of the century."

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Yay (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37992924)

My time is still to come in the science of anonymous asshattery.

Great (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37992984)

There is hope for many on /.

Re:Great (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37993004)

Not really... the operative word there is "genius".

Re:Great (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37993302)

So, there is hope for... Apple Store employees?

Re:Great (1)

jimi1x (1105911) | more than 3 years ago | (#37995046)

Fantastic - my best years are still a decade ahead of me!

You would think... (5, Funny)

camperdave (969942) | more than 3 years ago | (#37995958)

You would think 47 would be the prime age for physicists, as 48 is fairly composite... highly composite even.

Re:You would think... (2)

Narcocide (102829) | more than 3 years ago | (#37996138)

Hey! No math jokes! This is physics!

No more low hanging fruit (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37992988)

Science requires lots of hard work to make major discoveries. The low hanging fruit has been picked (barring some sort of paradigm shift) in most fields. Therefore, it takes time to get into a system and specialize and learn about the area. Only then can you really make notable accomplishments. So, long story short, I expected it because science is hard.

Re:No more low hanging fruit (1)

avandesande (143899) | more than 3 years ago | (#37993018)

Thank you for summarizing TFA which was way too long.

Re:No more low hanging fruit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37994742)

And what should we be thanking you for? Picking on a guy for making a relevant comment? Or is it a pat on the back of some sort. I don't know, but please, don't explain.

Re:No more low hanging fruit (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37996066)

We should thank him for corn-holing your mother.

Speaking of low hanging fruit... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37993036)

...check back as I present my long awaited proof of how the angle of the dangle is inversely proportional to the square of the hair!!!

Re:Speaking of low hanging fruit... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37995182)

I thought it was inversely proportional to the mass of the ass.

Re:No more low hanging fruit (5, Insightful)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#37993282)

Not just hard, but the experiments themselves these days are a lot more elaborate than they were a hundred or more years ago. If you need a super accurate sphere for an experiment, that can take years to develop in and of itself if you need more accuracy than what was previously available. Not to mention all those physicists that were in their early 20s when the LHC was first conceived of that are only in recent times getting to actually test those hypotheses that required more power than fermilab could put to the task.

Maybe that's the problem. (0)

mosb1000 (710161) | more than 3 years ago | (#37994652)

Perhaps the problem is that with more funding available, people don't bother looking for inventive, enexpensive ways to carry out the same tests.

Re:Maybe that's the problem. (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#37994862)

Some experiments are just expensive. Thought experiments are really helpful in helping one refine the idea to the point of a testable hypothesis, but ultimately you do have to do the experiments at some point. At this point most of the cheap easy to do experiments, at least as far as Newtonian Mechanics go, have already been done by somebody.

Now, when it comes to Quantum Mechanics, there's still that sort of opportunity, I've observed some really strange happenings myself over the years that seem to be analogous to things that one studies with regards to Quantum Mechanics.

Re:Maybe that's the problem. (3, Insightful)

rednip (186217) | more than 3 years ago | (#37995152)

Ah, the libertarian 'starve the farmer so that he'll work harder' approach to labor relations.

Re:Maybe that's the problem. (1)

Scareduck (177470) | more than 3 years ago | (#37995322)

"Him that doth not work, neither shall he eat" is a lot better than "we pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us".

Re:Maybe that's the problem. (2)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#37995514)

Except that in practice it's more like "him that doth work doth not eat either." A society that fails to care for the poor and sick tends not to do well in the long run.

Re:Maybe that's the problem. (1)

mosb1000 (710161) | more than 3 years ago | (#37996398)

That's nothing like what I said.

Also, I'm pretty sure the libertarian approach is to let the farmer keep what he grows.

Experimental Expectations Changed (1)

Ledgem (801924) | more than 3 years ago | (#37996288)

In addition to having more elaborate experiments, the burden of proof has become greater. It's fascinating to read scientific papers from even 20-30 years ago. The methodology seems so basic, and claims are made freely. Few, if any, papers from that time period would make it to publication today. Today, claims must be made very carefully, the number of methods used in each paper has increased, and often times many figures are dedicated to proving the exact same thing, just from different methods and approaches. It's necessary, but it most certainly slows things down.

Re:No more low hanging fruit (5, Insightful)

jd (1658) | more than 3 years ago | (#37993648)

Yes and no. There's no more low-hanging fruit, sure, but let's examine the case of Ruth Lawrence [wikipedia.org] . There's nothing that I can find which gives her IQ, other than that child psychologists have seen plenty of people of equal calibre. I'm guessing, from the lack of diversity in her skills and the fact that there are many comparable people in a country as small as Britain, that it's probably in the mid 160s. The IQ rarity table [iqcomparisonsite.com] tells us that there's 100,000 people as bright as that.

To put it another way, there should be High Schools in the US - maybe 2 in each State - that are teaching Harvard- or MIT-grade material, going by potential and the US' population.

Yes, Ruth Lawrence was pressured far too hard and was lucky not to burn out the way Sufiah Yusof so spectacularly did. (She dropped out of Oxford and became a high-class hooker.) However, she nonetheless demonstrates that the human brain has vastly greater potential than is being utilized. No, not the mythical 10% bullshit. I'm talking about the much more real capacity of the brain to store and process data efficiently and effectively. Poor educational practices are leaving people dumber than necessary.

But if you had 100,000 people doing BS/BA-grade work by the time they're 12, if they were going to make radical discoveries then you're damn right I'd expect them to do so by age 30. The failing isn't in Einstein's expectations, the failing is in the completely negligent teaching practices in use. Teaching today has barely evolved from Einstein's day, maybe even regressed in places, but science and technology have moved on. If the gap increases by too much, no human will have enough time to slug through at the crawl we currently demand of them to ever discover anything.

Education is a race - not student against student, but method against requirement. And education is losing.

Re:No more low hanging fruit (3, Insightful)

g4b (956118) | more than 3 years ago | (#37994208)

I still wonder, what IQ has to do with great scientific contributions?

It might be right, that high intelligence - lets assume IQ correctly measures that - allows greater sums of knowledge to be processed faster achieving to grasp deeper insight, therefore allowing to reiterate your thoughts quicker and conclusively concluding faster and more precise, but it is still dependant on acquiring knowledge itself - which takes time and sources, as learning thinking patterns themselves - which requires teaching, humility and reflection. Any human being can be in the position even with lesser IQ to do this big task, with good education and a well protected life, and social stability, he even might do it quicker, than an overbright being, who burns his brainticks iterating over nonsense, or worse, fears.

relying on inspiration, which requires to turn off logic once in a while and just have a hunch, I might add, is another factor I believe is a needed part of the recipe, and dont forget blessing or otherwise called luck, but those are clearly disputable.

And to finally lift the curtain of inescapable human reductionism, it is never only one person, who does a breakthrough, its just one person who finishes one of many ongoing puzzles and others recognize it.

Re:No more low hanging fruit (2)

jd (1658) | more than 3 years ago | (#37996226)

I think we're basically on the same page.

A great IQ means you can find patterns and connect dots faster than others. Essentially, a hunch is the same thing with incomplete data.

Good education could raise everyone's standards enormously. For all practical intents and purposes, the difference between the least-educated of the poorest farming communities and the very best of the agriculturalists, horticulturalists and gardeners is solely that the latter group have been taught how to correlate and how to research, giving them the skills to best exploit the ground to maximize the return for their investment over the short and long term. Teach the rural folk about what really working the soil means and you could eliminate dustbowls, double yield, reduce costs and eliminate many of the highly toxic garbage commonly used on cheap and very nasty farmland.

And, yes, I can say this. As well as top-flight academics in the family, I've plenty of top-flight farmers and gardeners as well - many serious geekheads, exploiting every last inch of their intelligence, IT and engineering to do stuff 20-30 years before anyone else. Which is insane. 1 year after a geek farmer has shown something can be done cheaply enough to be profitable, anyone capable of reading a book should have been able to do the same. That doesn't require much intelligence, but it DOES require learning about how to learn.

Give any person a good education AND the research skills, and there is absolutely no reason why they couldn't move 30 years ahead of where they were. Give them a good grounding in how to turn inspiration and deduction into invention and creativity - well, you might not end up with a nation full of Wosniks but you'll certainly end up with a nation that would regard some of the most common problems today as mere child's play.

Re:No more low hanging fruit (2)

shadowofwind (1209890) | more than 3 years ago | (#37994432)

As an example of this....Standard math books for Chinese kids three years old contain math that I didn't see until the third grade. My oldest son is far enough ahead that his American school decided to move him ahead a year, but he's way behind in his Chinese workbooks.

In some ways I think the situation has improved though. Although standardized tests are watered down compared to when I was young, there are good school districts now if you can afford to live in one. I can't say the instruction is very good, but at least the classes are hard.

Re:No more low hanging fruit (5, Insightful)

wrook (134116) | more than 3 years ago | (#37995700)

Education is hard. I've been doing it now (after 20 years as a programmer) for 4 1/2 years and am only now starting to see some of the issues.

One of the biggest problems is that there is a difference between knowing facts and being able to use them. It's a bit like knowing vocabulary in a language and being able to speak. It is the facility with knowledge that we require, but we value only the ability to recall facts. I'm teaching language at the moment and this is a field where it should be obvious. And yet after 6 years of study many students (well most, really) can't have *any* meaningful conversations in the target language. Their curriculum includes vocabulary similar to a 6 year old native speaker and the grammar of a 12 year old. But their conversational level is similar to a 2 or 3 year old. This is considered a success. It is even worse in other fields.

But an even bigger problem is the misunderstanding of the role of the teacher. We've got this absurdly naive idea that a teacher learns something and then somehow puts that knowledge into the heads of the students. This is so wrong headed that I barely know where to begin. Education depends on the students discovering information and using it fluently. A teacher's role is not to furnish the information, but to help the student learn how to explore. A teacher provides the context in which the student is able to be fluent.

But as teachers we are given a curriculum that consists of a list of facts. We are told to present these facts to the students in a particular order. The order often precludes any ability to generate a meaningful context. We discipline the students so that they accept sitting quietly and passively receiving these facts. We forbid them from working together. Timmy doesn't know the answer to question #1. Bad Timmy. Yes I know Tom knows the answer. No, you may not ask Tom. You are only allowed to learn facts from the teacher and since you were daydreaming you're not allowed to know the answer. Then we test them on the material. And the stupid thing is, we don't expect them to know the answers. Hey, yeah... you're doing awesome if you completely forgot a fifth of everything you were supposed to know. That's an A! Of course, we also switch topics every 2 months and never go back to review the topic we covered 10 months ago. You're supposed to remember (even though even the good students only knew 80% of it in the first place). By the time you get to the end of the year, there is virtually nothing in all the material that every student knows (80%, 80%, 80%,...). So when we get to the next year we can't base it on the previous year's material. We have to go back and reteach everything again. :-P

When people graduate they have this hodge podge of facts, incompletely remembered, hardly ever exercised in a meaningful context and forming a mostly random knowledge base. Fluency with the use of this information never occurred. It is also unlikely ever to occur because the students have been trained to simply shut up, listen to authority figures and regurgitate facts on command. Oh and that if you get 80% of the facts right, you're doing awesome (that 20% could never get anyone in trouble, right?)

Re:No more low hanging fruit (1)

RancidPeanutOil (607744) | more than 3 years ago | (#37996060)

Had mod points yesterday, not today. That was an accurate depiction of the problem. I'm glad you're still managing to hang in there, and I wish there were more of you, but burn-out is so common with the good ones. I want to say stick in there, but I wouldn't wish that on any rational being - so good for you, but keep hydrated and enjoy your vacation time.

Re:No more low hanging fruit (2)

jd (1658) | more than 3 years ago | (#37996310)

Oh, absolutely! Certain facts are useful as a foundation to a subject, but 99% of all facts taught aren't going to be memorized, are only going to end up being looked up in reference texts, and are therefore bleeding time that could be spent on comprehension, thought processing, research skills, transferable skills, logical processes and assorted forms of reasoning, etc.

Language is particularly fun. For a long time, people honestly believed that you shouldn't teach multiple languages at the same time (it would confuse the poor dears) and some people even believed you shouldn't teach multiple languages at all (it'll overload the brain). Both these are now falsified. Although very unlikely to get anywhere, the British are even contemplating requiring kids to be trilingual by the time they're 5 or 6. It would be wonderful if it ever happened.

I mostly agree with your view of the role of a teacher, but would add that when I've taught I've always taken the approach that my job is not that much different from the Greek's mythological muses - the one who pokes at the imagination, prods at the possibilities and throws the fuel of how to find out more onto whatever fires I can start. (Ok, maybe more like a mental pyromaniac in a classroom full of fireworks. What's the difference?)

True, not every one of the teachers in my family would agree with that strategy. Mind you, those are the ones who aren't able to get their graduate students to do any interesting research, so I'm inclined to think they're missing some essential points.

Re:No more low hanging fruit (1)

steelfood (895457) | more than 3 years ago | (#37995158)

I don't know if what Einstein said is exactly what he meant or how it's interpreted, and if it is, I don't know if it's entirely accurate.

Revolutionary ideas don't come from years of study. One doesn't spend twenty years studying black holes just to figure out a way for them to not exist (some however, do hedge their bets by making wagers against themselves). Revolutionary ideas come from knowing only the abstractions, looking only at the data points, and then coming up with ideas as to why it is the way it is. The real science of showing the idea holds comes afterwards.

That's how revolutions happen in knowledge. Everything else is just refinement, evolution. It moves the field forward. But it doesn't change the field.

It's important, nonetheless, to have a solid foundation. Without knowing what a photon is, one cannot develop a new theory of light. Without knowing how to do arithmetic, one cannot know how to quantify what's otherwise just still an idea, no matter how brilliant. But the fifty years spent studying one subject, while it may produce extraordinary results, is unlikely to redefine the entire field.

And when Einstein says "great contribution to science," that's the kind of contribution he might be alluding to.

Re:No more low hanging fruit (1)

Ihmhi (1206036) | more than 3 years ago | (#37995546)

I was thinking this exactly. We've answered most of the "easier" problems (relatively speaking, pun absolutely fucking intended). I mean, ask your average 30-year-old school kid to explain something like F=MA and they can probably do it. Ask them to explain (even at its most basic level) Quantum Mechanics and that number drops considerably. Now ask them to explain the shit the *really* smart people have already answered, especially recently... that number is going to shrink to hundreds or even dozens worldwide. Even if you take a lot of people who understand the latest physics, how long would it take them to discover even more complex phenomena?

Science works differently nowadays (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37992998)

Science is no longer one-man ventures, secluded in a room with blackboards and lots of paper; science is done by large teams spanning multiple universities and countries; it takes a while to become the Head Honcho of one of these groups. The actual Stroke of Genius might happen to be with a pre-30 team member, and usually quite a number of these strokes happen, but Head Honcho will get the ultimate credit.

Re:Science works differently nowadays (1)

BluBrick (1924) | more than 3 years ago | (#37993916)

The cynic in me agrees with your assessment - and everyone else seems to have gone quiet.

Re:Science works differently nowadays (4, Insightful)

slashdot_commentator (444053) | more than 3 years ago | (#37995750)

You're spot on, except you're not as cynical and bitter.

As Joseph Campbell once observed, civilizations are a collection of myths which everyone in the society accepts/believes. We were raised thinking that science worked like Star Trek, and that blinding genius was what made for great scientific breakthroughs. But what is "accepted" scientific fact? Its basically well designed, reproducible experiments that demonstrate the validity of a theory which is eventually accepted BY a body of academic peers supposedly trained to conduct and recognize that standards were met and valid. Guess what? No body of peers (mediocrities), no scientific validation.

Science always was, and particularly today, a relentless, and excruciating labor of many millions of ants, making progress by each crumb of discovered knowledge. It is a social hive that eventually culminates in something significant and new. When it does, its the queen that gets all the credit, even though she spent all her time popping out worker drones. You cannot even hope to get credit in the science/history books unless you happened to be at the top of the pile at the time, with powerful friends to validate you as the "discoverer".

What made "great" scientists recognized, in the previous century, was not mere genius or relentless work or even showmanship. The only ones that were noticed were the ones who realized the great collection of authorities in the field were dead wrong, and then had the guts and genius to prove they were wrong. They were cowboys like Einstein and Tesla. The days of the cowboys are gone. (And forget about working in a patent office part-time, while working on your breakthrough discovery. Then again, the pay and financial security of academicians/researchers are so bad, the next vanguard of scientists just may require a day job.)

The last scientist I can think of who went maverick and made her mark was Barbara McClintock. She had to stand by her research for decades while it was dismissed by her peers, until they couldn't continue to look stupid and wrong. And who the hell here even knew who she was when I mentioned her? Think of all the people who died in the previous decades from peptic ulcers until an internist conclusively demonstrated that ulcers were induced by bacteria, and simple antibiotics would cure the condition. The bacteria theory for ulcers was around for decades, but guess what? The wrong body of peers were the deans of Internal Medicine and editors of prestigious journals at the time. There are probably many scientific discoveries unknown to us, merely because the first guy to prove it just didn't have the right juice, or some bureaucratic body had a financial interest in dismissing the findings.

Assuming the study's conclusions are valid (and I don't believe anyone should take any studies' results for granted anymore), it only demonstrates that science has become more bureaucratic in the past decades; you need to go to the right schools, know the right people, and managed to get into the right "chairs" to be in position to get "credit" for a scientific endeavor. That takes time, which explains why "older" scientists are credited later in life today. This is not a good thing. Picture being Albert Pujols and never being "allowed" to play in the World Series because he wasn't on the roster of the Yankees, Red Sox, or Braves. In our case today, we are strangling our own advancement by our own bureaucracy (or societal pedigree).

Takes time to learn the fundementals (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37993008)

I think the basic issue is that we simply know far more than we used to. It takes more time now to learn what has already been discovered and get the point that you can start exploring new territory. The new frontiers are also much harder to observe now. One needs more complicated equipment to even start to setup the experiments necessary to test the new theories. Even those studies which are purely theoretical in nature are now built on top of mountains of knowledge - partly because fields which are mostly a matter of logic hacking are subject to brute force exploration via computer programs.

Thank God (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37993016)

I guess I'll hold off on the ice-floe plan for a few more years yet.

coder (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37993022)

first post!!!! I win

Re:coder (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37993248)


Re:coder (0)

Thexare Blademoon (1010891) | more than 3 years ago | (#37994772)

I've yet to see a "first post" that actually was.

It only makes sense really (5, Insightful)

erroneus (253617) | more than 3 years ago | (#37993038)

Everything new that is discovered, learned, realized or developed comes in no small part from everything that came before it. In order to create something new, you more or less have to acquire a fair portion of all of the knowledge and understanding that came before it. As that body of knowledge and understanding grows, so too does the time it takes to acquire and digest it all.

This problem will only get worse unless we learn to fight old age and the deterioration of the brain better.

The human limits are quickly being realized and it is our own mortality.

Re:It only makes sense really (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37993074)

The breakthrough in the early 20th century was about discovering completely new branches of physics (quantum mechanics, relativity). Only makes sense that as the field matures, it's harder to make breakthrough discoveries.

Re:It only makes sense really (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37993246)

The breakthrough in the early 20th century was about discovering completely new branches of physics (quantum mechanics, relativity). Only makes sense that as the field matures, it's harder to make breakthrough discoveries.

I've read some similar statements made in the late 19th century.

Then Einstein published his stuff in the early 20th century.

Physics is just in a lull right now or we humans have reached the limits of our ability to understand the physical world - we may be looking at something incredible but our minds are just not capable of understanding what we're looking at. Like a cat chasing a laser pointer.

Re:It only makes sense really (1)

jd (1658) | more than 3 years ago | (#37993802)

We're nowhere near our limits to understand. We're only at the limits to understand given the massive overheads the educational system imposes. (As I've mentioned elsewhere, there should be 100K kids entering High School with the kind of knowledge and understanding normally expected of those entering Harvard or MIT. Essentially, that would reduce the overheads imposed by 6 years. Six years, at the peak age for mental growth and mental agility rather than at the end of the brain's functional lifetime. A small city's population-worth of geniuses. That kind of optimization would allow such people to actually understand things like M-Theory and produce useful analysis and thus testable predictions based on it.

Of those, I'd expect maybe 10K people on-par with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Gregory Perelman, Stephen Hawking or John Nash, and maybe 1K people on-par with Leonardo da Vinci.

We'd have fusion within the week and interstellar flight within a lifetime. Maybe even flying cars!

Re:It only makes sense really (4, Insightful)

JoeMerchant (803320) | more than 3 years ago | (#37994914)

Maybe even flying cars!

We already have flying cars, but maybe only 1K civilians choose to afford to use them on a regular basis: they're called helicopters, and if people really wanted them in the form of cars badly enough (like Moller [moller.com] et. al.), they could do that, but like the helicopters, it's a question of economics and socio-political reality, not science, technology or invention per-se.

Re:It only makes sense really (2)

tsa (15680) | more than 3 years ago | (#37993354)

I think that is one of the reasons young scientists made most of the discoveries in those days. Quantum mechanics was so new back then that it had to be invented, and you need a very flexible mind to be able to do that. Something older people like me just don't have.

Re:It only makes sense really (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37996156)

I'm more flexible now than ever.

Young people are impetuous and impatient and dare to make waves and upset the establishment. They are more likely therefore to think laterally and "outside the box" (to borrow from the "business bullshit" vernacular).
I'm constantly guiding younger minds back toward the desired goal.

However, the star of the team is older than I am, and comes up with the most novel solutions.

Re:It only makes sense really (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#37993330)

Yes and no, one of the challenging things about doing ground breaking work is that it isn't necessarily the case that understanding the past will help. Most times it does, most times it's a matter of continuing what others were studying and put a new twist on it.

But, not always, it's relatively easy to fall into the theoretical trap and forget that the real world doesn't necessarily behave the way that one would expect. Reminds me of a while back when a group of physicists figured out that they could get a slightly more accurate estimation of both the speed and position of an electron if they permitted more uncertainty in both dimensions.

Not to mention all the statisticians that insist that the odds of winning a game don't depend upon the period of time at the table, completely ignoring the fact that there's a cumulative affect on the participants from things like fatigue and perception of possible future outcomes which aren't included in the typical figures.

Re:It only makes sense really (4, Interesting)

rolfwind (528248) | more than 3 years ago | (#37993352)

Maybe it has more to do with 2 things:

a) Younger people accept change faster. In the early 20th Century, Physics was fundamentally changing for the first time since Newton came onto the scene. It's often said that scientific revolutions are less the revolution part and more that acceptance comes as the older, unaccepting generations die out. Einstein himself was out of the game by quantum mechanics because he refuse to accept it.

So maybe the previously young age has less to do with mental agility of age and more about locking yourself into a preconceived box. Of course, science can have only so many revolutions, and as it shifts to evolutions, experience and age will start winning out... until the next revolution.

b) Younger people used to have less familial commitments. They often still do. Means more free time to devote to breakthroughs. But as the last century progress, people are definitely having less and less kids, and divorce is also on the rise - so older people may get the same benefits, time-wise....

Re:It only makes sense really (2)

Raenex (947668) | more than 3 years ago | (#37993540)

Einstein himself was out of the game by quantum mechanics because he refuse to accept it.

Which is kind of ironic, because he was one of it's earliest founders. It's what he got his Nobel Prize for.

Re:It only makes sense really (1)

wrook (134116) | more than 3 years ago | (#37995854)

It's a single data point, I know, but I'm definitely getting slower as I get older. And it's not just a matter of locking my self in a conceptual box, or other commitments taking my time. My brain just doesn't function the same way it used to.

4 1/2 years ago, I quit my job as a programmer, moved to Japan and started teaching English. I had pretty much had it with my previous lifestyle, so I literally gave everything away (apart from my house, which I sold) and kept only what would fit in a back pack. I wanted to try something completely different and so I did. In the process I taught myself Japanese.

I'm used to being thought of as being smart. I never had to work hard in high school. Even in university, I did well without having to work too hard. And in my job as a programmer, I was one of those hot-shot asshole programmers with a big ego, but a list of accomplishments to back it up. I kind of expected to be able to learn Japanese fairly quickly and it didn't happen. So, I started working really hard at it, and I slowly started learning. I'm now pretty fluent but I put in a lot more effort than many other people I know who got better results than me. My biggest problem is that I forget things easily. Even using spaced repetition tools, I tend to require more repetitions that other people I know.

I've also been programming in my spare time. I'm really starting to notice that my ability to hold large programs in my head and remember where everything is is degrading. Tricky pieces of code take me a lot longer to figure out (and I get a lot madder when I see them LOL -- but I think that's just being crabby...) I'm not nearly as agile as I once was.

But interestingly, I don't necessarily see this as a bad thing. As I'm aging, I'm happy to throw out the "hot shot asshole" part of my programming ability. I'm quite happy to spend 2 days writing code that used to take me 1 day because it's also half as complex as it used to be. I just can't understand the shit I used to pump out any more ;-) As for languages, I'm not sure that I need to learn any more quickly than I am. Language is a lot about experiences and learning language without the experience to go along with the language leads to a poor ability to apply the language.

There are advantages and disadvantages to getting older. But for me, at least, the way I think and learn has changed dramatically.

Re:It only makes sense really (1)

rolfwind (528248) | more than 3 years ago | (#37996422)

I heard the ability to learn language degrades quickly already after the age of 10 or so. Not sure if it's true. I noticed the best way to learn a language is to be immersed in it, and the internet is kinda double edged, because back 20+ years ago, someone could go to a foreign country and be truly isolated from their native language except for a book/magazine that would get old quickly. With the internet, I imagine people would be heavily tempted (or required) to keep referring back to their parent language and use that as a crutch.

Unrelated, but how do you like living in Japan? I always hear it's gaijin unfriendly, but is there any way to "advance" or as a westerner, will you be permanently stuck into "English-teacher" or other role?

Re:It only makes sense really (1)

DigiShaman (671371) | more than 3 years ago | (#37993620)

Which is why we should be focusing on learning machines like Watson or a future HAL like computer. We're getting closer to developing tools that will make the big discoveries for us. Computers. The kind that will not only interpret data, but present us models of the Universe we never even thought of.

Re:It only makes sense really (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37995466)

What new knowledge has Watson constructed?

Re:It only makes sense really (1)

flyingsquid (813711) | more than 3 years ago | (#37993936)

Another possible explanation is that groundbreaking science using state of the art technology now requires some serious financial support and infrastructure. We're talking about grants from the NSF or NIH, a lab, equipment, graduate students, postdocs... a senior scientist is more likely to have acquired the resources and built up the program to do groundbreaking work than a junior scientist. Take astronomy, for instance. Back in Galileo's day, you could just take a small telescope and point it at the moon and planets and do groundbreaking research. Now, the state of the art in astronomy requires machines like the Keck Observatory or the Hubble Space Telescope.

Re:It only makes sense really (2)

JoeMerchant (803320) | more than 3 years ago | (#37994872)

Everything new that is discovered, learned, realized or developed comes in no small part from everything that came before it.

That is changing. In the 1800s, all learned men with a University education would know Greek and Latin, certain philosophers, certain writers, etc. and this was the common education that they all shared to base their extended learning on. Today, we specialize to such an extent that some science and engineering majors may only share two or three classes in common with other majors such as business, art, or education.

Within engineering, there is the core curriculum of a dozen or so classes, then the branches form.

As the world grows in its billions and we specialize ever further, we will have less and less in common with people from other fields.

If you should chance into an entirely new field, or, more likely, a fusion of two previously disparate fields, it is not necessary for you to have the sum of all knowledge of everything that has ever been known before in the related areas for you to contribute entirely new things to the world. It might help, more often, it seems like a waste of effort.

I have been more or less doing this fusion with software and other engineering in various fields since graduation, mostly medicine. The work is chaotic and I'm not sure I'll ever make an enduring "mark" on the world, that is not my goal, it might happen by chance, but I'd be just as happy if it didn't.

Re:It only makes sense really (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 3 years ago | (#37996278)

If you should chance into an entirely new field, or, more likely, a fusion of two previously disparate fields, it is not necessary for you to have the sum of all knowledge of everything that has ever been known before in the related areas for you to contribute entirely new things to the world. It might help, more often, it seems like a waste of effort.

Of course not, it's not like you have to know all physics to improve one sub-branch of physics either. On the positive side if there's n fields there n*(n-1) combination of fields so there's less chance someone has picked all the hanging low fruit, on the other hand you now have to understand two fields in some depth. Still, with an ever expanding body of knowledge it becomes more and more probable that's been done before too. Sure there's biology and chemistry but biochemistry has been an established crossover for a very long time. Same with geology and physics leading to geophysics, psychology and sociology leading to group dynamics and so on. Computers and X is fairly new because computers are "new", but say physics and computers leading to robotics is starting to have a pretty big bulk of its own.

You can also see it on the tech requirements just to have a job. Not longer than 50-100 years ago plenty people were farm hands, people who'd do simple manual labor. Today you need a few trained operators of high-tech tractors, I think pretty much the last hold-out is taxi drivers that mostly just take directions from a GPS. If we finally get automated cars, I think many of them will have problems finding other work. We are already applying science everywhere creating practical tools, not just the pure branches of science. That trend will go on I think, the requirements just to use are going way up and the requirements to improve upon it going even further.

That said, if you're just looking for money I'm sure there'll be opportunities to be another Mark Zuckerberg, just like before that people were saying Bill Gates was there at the right time and nobody could go from garage man to multi-billionaire today. But if you're going to become another Einstein, well I don't really see it. Maybe if you have new data like for example from exoplanets, because then you have the chance to find things nobody had the chance to find before. But I don't think you'll just randomly run into something big in your average college lab anymore, it's mostly big dedicated teams on specialized equipment. Even research itself is specializing.

Re:It only makes sense really (1)

wvmarle (1070040) | more than 3 years ago | (#37995096)

I was thinking similar, but then in a different approach. Many great discoveries these days are teamwork, with dozens to thousands of scientists working on a single problem, everyone doing a little bit. And it's generally the head of that group that receives all the credit.

Managing such an organisation isn't easy, and requires a lot of experience in both the scientific work and the management work. These scientists are probably more manager than that they are experimentalist, and naturally they are getting older due to the career that goes ahead of reaching such a position.

Also I wouldn't be surprised if many of the scientists doing the grunt work (the actual experiments, the equipment design and construction, the calculations) are still the younger guys, doing their PhD or post-doc work. And maybe making their first steps towards moving up in the organisation, to end up on top some 20, 30 years later, receiving all the credit of the work the group has done.

i'm 39 (2)

planimal (2454610) | more than 3 years ago | (#37993118)

time to kill self... :(

Health over the century (4, Insightful)

the Dragonweaver (460267) | more than 3 years ago | (#37993122)

This doesn't surprise me in the least. Various stories have been done on the fact that not only are we living longer, we're healthier as we age. The nineteenth century in particular is rife with forty-somethings suffering from afflictions such as gout, the aftereffects of rickets, or severe arthritis as well as the travails of various malnutrition diseases. At the time Einstein made his quote, the examples presented to his awareness would primarily be those giants of the nineteenth century, as his contemporaries were yet to show their true glory.

So imagine how hard it is to focus when you're dealing with continual pain, and you'll understand quite well that most scientists of the time had to make their contributions before the onset of age-related issues, or their concentration would suffer markedly.

Re:Health over the century (2)

Toonol (1057698) | more than 3 years ago | (#37993486)

Plus, we may be immature longer (as in playing games, being imaginative and flighty, etc.). That may extend our creative juices longer into old age... our relatively long adolescence compared to other mammals (particularly apes) is thought to be one component of our much greater intelligence.

No child prodigies anymore (1)

byteherder (722785) | more than 3 years ago | (#37993190)

Why are there no child prodigies in Physics (or Chemistry or Biology)?

I cannot think of one in the past 100 years.

Einstein breakthrough year was 1905 and he was 26.

Re:No child prodigies anymore (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37993310)


There have been many, just none with discoveries that invent entire new areas or drastically change existing ones.

Re:No child prodigies anymore (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#37993348)

They still exist, they just don't have the kind of access to lab equipment that would permit them to achieve much of anything until they're adults. You'll always have a few children that are ready for highschool or college physics while still in elementary school, but you're not necessarily always going to have an intersection between them and the population of physicists with access to lab equipment and the means of getting published.

Re:No child prodigies anymore (2)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#37993366)

Physics, unlike, say, making noises, isn't an innate behavior.

It's not even as innate as math, which is logical thinking in symbolic code.

Physics requires moving beyond manipulating symbols and into understanding physical processes, few of which are even visible without massive equipment. Just finding something to innovate takes experience with an ever-increasing breadth of data sources.

And the premise for this whole discussion is kinda wrong. Science is bursty. There was a rapid movement in the 1600s and 1700s, with opportunities for younger folks like Newton to get their piece in, then things got quiet and it was all old guys until the late 1800s and early 1900s, when we started to realize what atoms were, and that produced lots of juicy conundra that young guys could get their heads around.

Now we're bogged down with N forms of string theory, and our apparatus for experimenting on it is literally bigger than almost any city on the planet. I don't see how any kid could get involved enough to make a difference. It's a game of management and teamwork now.

Re:No child prodigies anymore (1)

In hydraulis (1318473) | more than 3 years ago | (#37995902)

And of course, there are exceptions.

Carl Friedrich Gauss [wikipedia.org]

Re:No child prodigies anymore (1)

artor3 (1344997) | more than 3 years ago | (#37993928)

There are still prodigies (I know one myself), but they run into other problems. First of all, there's more stuff to learn before you can start making contributions. You know the quote about standing on the shoulders of giants. What they don't tell you is that first you need to climb those shoulders, and they get taller every years.

More important though, is the fact that science doesn't pay. You can make a lot more money with a lot less effort going into finance, or business, or even engineering. I had a friend in college who finished his undergrad when he was 17, with a triple major in software, electrical, and computer hardware engineering. Needless to say, he's a smart guy. Had he put in the effort to get a doctorate and do some original research, he might have discovered the next big thing. Instead he started his own small business making some widget or another, and makes big time money. That's not a bad thing. It's good for him and his employees. But it's not good for science as a whole to lose such promising minds to better paying fields.

Longer life span (1)

orzetto (545509) | more than 3 years ago | (#37993210)

I think there is a fundamental bias when measuring the age of best work with the proposed metric, i.e. measuring when the work for which a Nobel was awarded was originally published.

Nobel prizes are awarded only to living physicists (and that's why Einstein never got one for relativity, he died too soon). So, only the work done early in life can lead to a Nobel prize, since it needs to be revolutionary to be worth of the prize, it needs to be settled so it will not be controversial, and revolutionary ideas take a long time to settle (see, again, relativity). Consider also all those physicists working on radioactivity and X-rays in the early days: many died very young simply because nobody knew of the dangers of what they were researching.

So, I think the increase in "genius age" is only due to the fact that scientists, as everybody else, are living longer.

Re:Longer life span (1)

Colonel Korn (1258968) | more than 3 years ago | (#37993710)

I don't think life expectancy has changed meaningfully for well educated professionals in the last century.

My take: let's plot median age of greatest accomplishment vs. date of birth. On the same plot, show median life expectancy vs. date of birth. Where they cross, innovation by individual contributors will go through a second order phase transition and become increasingly hampered by biology and the complexity required to contribute to modern science.

PS - I know this is a wild oversimplification.

Re:Longer life span (2)

Iron (III) Chloride (922186) | more than 3 years ago | (#37993976)

Erm, I'm not sure about your explanation for why Einstein never got a Nobel prize for relativity. His theory of GR was published in 1915, he won the Nobel in 1921, but the famous eclipse experiment (which was the first novel experimental validation of GR) was in 1919. He got the prize for the photoelectric effect (which, along with Brownian motion and SR, was published in 1905), and he died in 1955. That's a 32-year gap, and Einstein got quite famous for relativity well before his death. I'm quite sure the Nobel committee could've easily awarded Einstein the prize had they wanted to do so.

Also, it appears based on the MSNBC article (I generally don't trust the media for accurate reports about studies, so this is just for what it's worth), that the analysis appears to have done its calculation based on the age of the scientist at the time of discovery, not at the time of recognition. You might argue for some sort of selective bias in the sense that only longer-living scientists tended to get recognized in the early 20th century, but then you would still have to show a negative correlation between a propensity for longer lifespan living under early-20th-century medicine and the age at which one's best work was done. In other words, if, according to your explanation, only the "healthier" scientists got recognized in the early 20th-century led to a bias in the data, that would have to mean that their health somehow enabled them to do their best work at a younger age compared to their "less healthy" peers. That doesn't seem to be a likely possibility for me, so I'm not sure your explanation makes that much sense.

E = mc^3 (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#37993262)

I'll take my Nobel Prize money in gold bars, thanks.

Well (3, Insightful)

ShooterNeo (555040) | more than 3 years ago | (#37993274)

Here's a simple and reasonable explanation for this shift.

The reason for young male scientists making their big breakthroughs before age 30 probably is caused by hormonal levels (they work extremely hard to create a novel solution to a problem in order to attract a mate) and possibly some brain aging. The brain is most likely a bit more plastic and higher performance between age 20 and 30 than it is between age 40 and 50.

HOWEVER, what has happened is that a stroke of brilliance is no longer sufficient. All the easy pickings in physics have already been found. Now, the significant discoveries are much more complex endeavors, requiring far more knowledge and experience before someone could even be in a situation to make one. Just like how major inventions can't really happen in garages anymore. (sure, you can hack something together in a garage with Arduino boards...but you won't have made anything that hasn't already been prototyped in lots of places elsewhere) Contrast the present day with, say, the Wright Brothers building a powered aircraft with only limited resources. Today to make spacecraft able to take a man to Mars you'd need the resources of entire country.

So, yes, I think that physicists that age probably become less effective due to aging, but due to more knowledge and experience and resources they became able to make these big discoveries AT ALL.

How dare you. Now I need a new excuse! (5, Funny)

Master Moose (1243274) | more than 3 years ago | (#37993288)

At 33 my laziness was justified in "past my prime", but typical as with everything, the goal posts are moved on me.

Re:How dare you. Now I need a new excuse! (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37994662)

World is ending at the end of next year, why do something until then?

Faggots are shit that need flushed (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37993322)

Die faggots! DIE!!!! You're a drain on society. If you had any hope for humanity you'd just go away and never be heard from again in decent society. Bitch ass faggot queers. Go die of AIDS!!@!!

Re:Faggots are shit that need flushed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37993780)

Die faggots! DIE!!!! You're a drain on society. If you had any hope for humanity you'd just go away and never be heard from again in decent society. Bitch ass faggot queers. Go die of AIDS!!@!!

You're a very angry person. You should try taking a more cheerful, gay outlook at things.

Standing upon the shoulders of Giants... (1)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 3 years ago | (#37993342)

Takes longer to accumulate enough knowledge to leverage it into something new.

Re:Standing upon the shoulders of Giants... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37994814)

you have to start from the same point in human learning... but the Giants to stand on keep getting taller!

The peak age hasn't changed considerably. (3, Funny)

oobayly (1056050) | more than 3 years ago | (#37993358)

Einstein was working in hex.

John Fenn (2)

Jeff1946 (944062) | more than 3 years ago | (#37993360)

John Fenn won the Nobel prize in chemistry for work he did in his 60's.

Blanket statements like this are ridiculous (5, Insightful)

Godskitchen (1017786) | more than 3 years ago | (#37993462)

Einstein was obviously a smart guy but that doesn't mean everything he said is fact. In fact, I think blanket statements like the one quoted in the article are patently absurd. People can accomplish great things at any age. Second, I think the argument that has been mentioned a few times already, regarding the assertion that the "low-hanging fruit" of science has already been discovered, thus making any significant leaps more difficult, is baloney. One hundred years ago I'm sure they were saying the same thing.

Re:Blanket statements like this are ridiculous (1)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 3 years ago | (#37995040)

regarding the assertion that the "low-hanging fruit" of science has already been discovered, thus making any significant leaps more difficult, is baloney. One hundred years ago I'm sure they were saying the same thing.

It would be really cool if you could find a quote or two backing that up.

Re:Blanket statements like this are ridiculous (1)

ralphdaugherty (225648) | more than 3 years ago | (#37995310)

Second, I think the argument that has been mentioned a few times already, regarding the assertion that the "low-hanging fruit" of science has already been discovered, thus making any significant leaps more difficult, is baloney. One hundred years ago I'm sure they were saying the same thing.

Well the guy at the Patent Office did anyway.

I agree, low hanging fruit? Relativity was not low hanging fruit, and it was entirely a mental exercise AFAIK for those who blamed difference in experimental apparatus required.

Parent is pure win! Re:Blanket statements (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37995484)

Godskitchen: over 9000 points vs. Dogma 0 points! Thank you for saying what you did!

Crush the dogmas (and let's give all the stupid "wise sayings" idioms a good bashing too!).

- an AC that thinks 10 birds on the roof is better

bummer for some (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37993542)

Numerous bean counters, HR types, plutocrats, and the "Who Moved My Cheese?" crowd will work hard to suppress information of this type. We *all* know that science and technology is a young man's game! Can't very well do age discrimination with nonsense like this floating about, can we?

Moore's Mind Law (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37994000)

Could AI help physics in the sense that we leverage computers more to identify patterns in ingenuity, patterns in our fundamental understanding and observation of the world? I think that we have a certain capacity for understanding, but beyond that we will probably need to rely on computers as the step-ladders to new discoveries. It's like using a step-ladder to see the items that are on the top of your fridge at the back...how'd that get up there you wonder :) Sometimes we just need to know that we don't know, and then leverage what we have at our disposal to find a perspective that will allow us to be in the "know."

Maybe married men stop innovating? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37994098)

It might have to do with an increase in the age of marriage or a decline in the rate of marriage. Whipped (married) men are not innovative.


Frictionless World (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37994148)

Until we have no friction in our world, discoveries will continue to be made. For example: there will always be a better way to do something. In fact some people might answer what's the shortest path from point A to point B with...a straight line. A physicist might say, bend space time and make A=B in all dimensions. Another might say why leave point A, yet another might say that A doesn't even exist as it's merely a representation of what you perceive and if you were not able to perceive A would it still exist? I would submit that we create our own utility for new discoveries...so in effect we create the problem and then discover the solution...when the solution was never needed if the problem didn't exist. Some might call these challenges, but really I have no doubt that someone will discover a cure for ADHD only to realize that we were the source of ADHD...it's typical that it's cyclical.

The stroke of genius has to be later (5, Funny)

HtR (240250) | more than 3 years ago | (#37994398)

I know that it has to be later in life, since I'm already 46, and I haven't even had mine yet.

Are they as good? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37994624)

Are people "peaking" at later ages or is their great work more of an incremental push? The Nobel Prize will be awarded yearly (it would be interesting to see a year where the committee decides to say: "No! There is no spectacular work as far as we can see! See you next year!") Like in politics the committee picks from the available candidates, and since the body of work of a single person does not stand head and shoulders above any other, wouldn't it take considerably longer (thus the older ages of the prize winners) for it to be recognized?

Maybe they have a point, the corporations (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37994678)

Could explain why nobody over 50 (45, 40..) can get rehired.

After 48 ... (2)

PPH (736903) | more than 3 years ago | (#37994818)

... my productive time has been consumed keeping you kids off my lawn.

timberlandsalg.comtimberland stÃvler (-1)

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Off Topic-- Dirac (5, Insightful)

Takionbrst (1772396) | more than 3 years ago | (#37995190)

FTA "[...] people like Einstein and Paul Dirac (who predicted the existence of antimatter )"

It's so strange that they have to explain who Dirac is. I'm a student in a top high energy physics department, and the man's name is literally everywhere. He build quantum field theory from the ground up, damn near by himself. He's definitely a demigod within the community.

When I was in highschool I read (in Scientific American?) an article about Dirac, and it portrayed him as something of an under appreciated genius, that somehow he managed to escape the public eye. I guess this really is true.

There's this huge disconnect between who the layman idolizes (Einstein, Bohr, Hawking etc.) and who the theorists idolize (t'Hooft, Yang, Wilson, etc. though of course we do idolize the other guys as well).

Re:Off Topic-- Dirac (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37996286)

You should have a look at the common man's heroes in IT and the heroes of IT/CS, very tragic.

Common man: Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, whatever...
IT/CS: Alan Turing, Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace, Marvin Minsky, Niklaus Wirth, Ken Thompson, Dennis Ritchie, etc. (your favorites)

Field Medal (1)

Takionbrst (1772396) | more than 3 years ago | (#37995196)

Doesn't change the fact that they won't award the Fields medal to anyone over 40 years old. Sadface...

perhaps a few world wars and epidemics? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37995236)

This turn of the 20th century time was also a time of great upheaval in other ways.. Two huge wars, Russian revolution, Spanish Flu, etc . So, sure, it's "new physics to be discovered" partly because of new theoretical underpinnings (Maxwell, etc.). But maybe it's also because the old guard wound up dying, and leaving room for new people to come up with radical new ideas.

A lot of fundamental research was done in the service of the war machine (how much nuclear physics was motivated by things like the Manhattan project, which hired dozens of young physicists to go do fundamental research)

These days, getting funding (however small) requires convincing a board full of reviewers, most of whom represent the status quo. There aren't a whole lot of philanthropists and/or patrons just flinging money about, nor people who are independently wealthy (4th Baron Strutt, Lord Rayleigh).

other name for it (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37996144)

people who manage to have their breakthrough at higher ages are also called 'Late Bloomers'

Obligatory conspiracy theory (2)

kangsterizer (1698322) | more than 3 years ago | (#37996194)

As we all know Einstein can't be wrong, and can't be wronged in the future either.
But the Illuminaties figured that most physicists would stop working after their 30s since they were doomed to fail and not discover anything new.
Therefore, the new age is 48. If that's not enough to get those lazy bastards to work, it'll be pushed back again later.

Not the point (2)

dave87656 (1179347) | more than 3 years ago | (#37996224)

I think Einsteins point was that the really truly great strokes of genius will happen before 30. Sure many physicists will peak later but they won't be the ones developing a relativity theory.

Historical counterexample (2)

whoisisis (1225718) | more than 3 years ago | (#37996400)

Joseph Fourier [wikipedia.org] made a scientific breakthrough quite late in his life (ca. 1820). We wouldn't be where we are today without his theories.

Maybe.. (2)

robbo (4388) | more than 3 years ago | (#37996404)

In the absence of paradigm-shifting results, Nobel reduces to a lifetime achievement award.

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