Weinberg said the researchers used what economists call a regression analysis, a commonly used statistical procedure, to tease out what the relationships were, and graphed age at peak creativity within fields and the change over time within fields.
The result: "We discovered there's a tendency toward more important scientific contributions coming at later ages," said Weinberg. The team say the trend was associated with the accumulation of knowledge over time, as well as a shift away from abstract, theoretical work towards more practical experimentation as the scientist got older.
Weinberg and Jones found that theoretical work peaked more often in a scientist's early career, but more experimental work blossomed with maturity. The only exception to this trend occurred in the field of physics.
The study observations are sound, but there could be many explanations for the findings, noted one Nobel Laureate, Dr. Oliver Smithies, Weatherspoon Eminent Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine. Smithies, 86, won the Nobel Prize in 2007 for work he had conducted at age 60, developing methods to alter genes in mice.
"Their observations are interesting, but the reasons behind the age distribution are not so easy to say. It could be due to the complexity of the field, or it could be because people are getting married earlier and their work is being delayed a little longer," Smithies said.
Still, the new study is an important contribution to the literature on age and achievement, said Dr. David Henry Feldman, director of the Developmental Science Group at the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development, at Tufts University.
"The long-held assumption that we are washed up by 30, or whatever age, in scientific fields is probably not true," he said. It's not true of other fields either, Feld
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