This week’s edition of Nature has two articles, an editorial and a news piece, about the researcher age, creativity, and innovation! Both pieces are based on a new study by Mikko Packalen and Jay Bhattacharya published by the US National Bureau of Economic Research, “AGE AND THE TRYING OUT OF NEW IDEAS.”
…analysis of some 20 million biomedical papers published over the past 70 years suggests that younger researchers are more likely than older researchers to be working on innovative topics. Out with the old? Not so fast: if you are good enough then you are old enough, certainly. But the latest analysis also suggests that the most productive groups teamed a young researcher with an old(er) hand. There is an age-old problem here, but it is not necessarily old age.
While the study, and the methods it utilizes, are certainly interesting and seem to confirm an ageist dogma, they are perhaps not completely representative of reality. The analysis is based on some assumptions of scientists’ age, as well as how ‘innovation’ and ‘creativity’ are defined and calculated.
The method could not measure researchers’ creativity, only their willingness to embrace new ideas, which might have been proposed by others. But it showed that except for the newest scientists, young researchers far outpaced older scientists in citing new ideas in their papers, Packalen and Bhattacharya found (see ‘Cooling down’). Because the two had no way of measuring the actual age of a researcher, they calculated ‘career ages’ — the number of years after a scientist’s first publication.
Nonetheless, the study brings forward the interesting and timely discussion of aging scientists, as a number of countries are considering changing the way they deal with older researchers (pointed out in the editorial).