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Nowadays, scientists who make it big early in their career often don’t get the chance to make another big discovery themselves. These geniuses can be somewhat forced into becoming glorified publicists and administrators. This is because once you make it big, you are in demand from your peers and will likely spend the next several years giving talks around the world, you will also spend a considerable amount of time writing grants to keep the cash flowing into the lab. All of these activities, which are necessary to keep science moving forward, don’t leave much time for the intensive demand of carrying out experiments. Hopefully, the people you have hired in your lab are as smart as you are and they will carry on your life’s research.
So is science really a young person’s game? I don’t think so. These geniuses that have won Nobel Prizes represent less than a handful of the geniuses working in science at the time of their discovery. Also, science is not at all an individual effort, 99.9% of discoveries are made on the back of previous experiments by other scientists. Take Einstein, he followed the work of the French mathematician Henry Poincaré very closely. While Poincaré was very close to putting his finger on the theory of relativity he couldn’t quite grasp it. However, Einstein’s brilliant young mind was able to put these phenomena into an intelligible encompassing formula “E=mc2” and Voilà, a Nobel Prize!
So who should really be credited with the Nobel Prize? Should it be awarded to one man or to the many different people who set the stage for these big discoveries? (For more info on this relativity dispute check out this great Wikipedia article). While I’m on this point, was it really just to award the Nobel Prize in physics last year to François Englert and Peter Higgs who came up with the theory of how particles acquire mass, or should they have acknowledged the 3,000+ scientists working in CERN who actually proved that this theory was true?
Although this study by Jones doesn’t really tell us anything that we didn’t already know; if you want to be successful you need to work hard, this paper raises some deeper questions;
It makes me think about how educational institutions are organised and if we could possibly do something to increase the number of geniuses in the world?
Also maybe we should evaluate how scientific funding is allocated. Young independent researchers starting out their own lab often have a hard time getting the attention of funding agencies. If we believe the data presented in this paper we should probably take more risks with young scientists because the rewards are potentially higher. However, before making any dramatic changes to the system, we must consider the possibility that if the established researchers don’t get enough money to keep their labs running, then we may find that there is not enough money to train young scientists. This would inevitably lead to a decrease in the number of geniuses. This is a complex question but I think it merits consideration.
I would really recommend taking the time to read this book chapter, it’s aimed towards scientists but it’s written in a way that avoids and explains the technical jargon of economics. I look forward to seeing the book in print so that I can find out all the secrets of how I can go about becoming a scientific genius.
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