Life

The Nobel Prize Paradox: Why Winners Often Become Less Productive After Winning

  When a Nobel Prize is awarded, the age of the winner is generally between 50 and 70 years old, and there is even a 90-year-old winner—American economist Leonid Hurwitz, winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize in Economics. However, there are exceptions to the Nobel Prize. For example, in 2014, 17-year-old Pakistani girl Malala Yousafzai became the youngest Nobel Prize winner (Peace Prize); two Chinese scientists Yang Zhenning and Lee Tsung-dao also They won the Nobel Prize in Physics in their youth. When they won the award in 1957, they were 35 and 31 years old respectively.
  Statistics show that as of 2022, the average age of all Nobel Prize winners is 58 years old, the average age of male winners is 57.9 years old, and the average age of female winners is 63.5 years old. Chinese scientist Tu Youyou and her colleagues developed artemisinin to treat malaria in 1972. However, it was not until 43 years later (she was 85 years old) that she won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2015. It can be seen that the Nobel Prize does “prefer” the elderly. Therefore, there is also a “Nobel Prize Law” circulated in academic circles: if you want to win a Nobel Prize, you must live long enough.
  For the above reasons, some people think that the Nobel Prize is a bit “age-based” rather than “achievement-based”. In fact, looking at the history of the Nobel Prize, we will find that it is reasonable and fair to win the Nobel Prize at an older age. Whether it is confirmation or falsification, scientific research results require time and other studies to corroborate them. Therefore, the test that takes time becomes the primary reason why Nobel Prize winners are older. Recently, a new study gave another reason to prove that awarding the Nobel Prize to older researchers is a “clever arrangement” that adapts to social reality and natural laws.
  In June this year, Jayantha Bhattacharya, a health economist and epidemiologist at Stanford University in the United States, and his team published a study pointing out that after winning the Nobel Prize, the scientific research output of the winner often will decrease. Researchers found that there are many reasons for the decrease in scientific research output after winning the award. In addition to the older age of the award winners and their energy and physical strength are not as good as before, there is another important reason – after winning the award, they need to participate in social activities and other Activities have multiplied so that much less time is spent on professional studies than in the past. This situation was not obvious before the 1950s, but gradually became apparent after that.
  Bhattacharya’s team collected and analyzed data on Nobel Prize winners in Physiology or Medicine from 1950 to 2010, and used three change charts to reflect the changes in research results of the winners after winning the award: one is the number of papers published after winning the award; The citation rate of the papers published after the award; the third is the novelty of the “scientific ideas” after the award, that is, the ability to think innovatively. Researchers can use computer programs to identify each independent, unique scientific idea in a paper. After a scientist is awarded a Nobel Prize, researchers determine the novelty of each of the laureate’s unique scientific ideas based on when they first appeared in the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s Unified Medical Language System.
  Researchers compared the ages of Nobel Prize winners in Physiology or Medicine with those of Lasker Prize winners. The Lasker Prize is a famous medical award, also known as the bellwether of the Nobel Prize. For example, before winning the Nobel Prize, Tu Youyou had already won the 2011 Lasker Award for Clinical Medicine. As of 2022, 95 (about 25%) of the Lasker Prize winners have won the Nobel Prize. However, the Lasker Prize is usually awarded to relatively young scientists, while the Nobel Prize is awarded to older scientists. The researchers found that before winning the prize, scientists who later won the Nobel Prize published papers more frequently, were more novel, and were cited more often than scientists who later won the Lasker Prize. After winning the award, the situation of the winners of both awards will undergo some changes. On average, Nobel laureates’ productivity, novelty, and citation rates declined after winning the prize, to about the same level as, but sometimes lower than, Lasker laureates.
  Further analysis found that Nobel Prize winners published one more research result per year than Lasker Prize winners in the 10 years before winning the award. However, in the 10 years after winning the award, Lasker Prize winners published one more research result per year than Nobel Prize winners. Lasker Prize winners also experienced a small decrease in their output rates after winning the prize, but the difference in paper output rates between the two groups of laureates was almost entirely driven by the large decrease in Nobel Prize winners’ output rates.
  Of course, this is only a phenomenon that occurs among Nobel Prize winners in Physiology or Medicine. Do winners in other fields also experience this phenomenon of reduced or even stagnant output after winning the prize?
  Australian social scientist Kirk Dolan has conducted research on the Fields Medal, known as the “Nobel Prize in Mathematics.” Dolan’s research results show that mathematicians produce less scientific research after winning the Fields Medal.
  Bhattacharya’s team admitted that their study did not answer the direct causal link between winning the Nobel Prize and declining scientific productivity. Dolan believes that winning the Fields Medal is almost the highest achievement for mathematicians and will definitely change their lives. Laureates will participate in various social activities, such as giving speeches, accepting media interviews, attending public events, and also participating in business activities or publishing books. These matters will take up their time and energy to engage in professional research. Therefore, it is also a natural phenomenon that scientific research output decreases after winning the award.
  It is an undeniable fact that after winning the Nobel Prize, the lives of the winners will change considerably. They are no longer just scientists, but will devote more energy to other fields and exert their influence through public activities. . Many Nobel Prize winners won the prize after they have reached old age. It is unrealistic to expect them to have the same scientific research output as before they won the prize. Therefore, one destination for older Nobel Prize winners is to base themselves on their own profession and use their words, deeds and works to participate in social operations. They can also realize the social value of the winners and contribute to the scientific community. This may be the Nobel Prize “clever arrangement”.
  Therefore, although it is true that the creativity and research output of scientists will decrease after winning the Nobel Prize, it is not worth worrying about. After winning the award, the role of scientists has changed from single to multiple, which conforms to the natural law of human life cycle and the decline of creativity with age. The winners may leave the front line of scientific research, and at the same time start a new life journey, using their knowledge, experience and influence to make more contributions to society.

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