Young Frankensteins most successful? Creativity peaks for scientists early on

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Scientists may be viewed as pioneers of innovation who are always in search of their next discovery from the start of their careers to the finish. A new Ohio State University study suggests this isn’t the case. It turns out scientists peak in creativity just at the start of their career. By the end of it, they wind up publishing one-half to two-thirds less research than from their earlier days.

For almost two decades, researchers have tried to examine the relationship between innovation and age/experience, yet have come up short on a concise explanation. There’s lots of nuance surrounding this topic, which is what makes it difficult to summate and why study co-author Bruce Weinberg, an economics professor at the school, still encourages supporting late-stage career scientists as much as early-stage.

“We found that as they get older, the work of biomedical scientists was just not as innovative and impactful,” he says in a statement.

Weinberg and his team conducted their work by using a rather simple method, counting the number of times other scientists mention or cite the work of another study in their own. The more times a study is cited, the more valuable it’s considered to be. Through this technique, they were able to compare how often scientists’ work was cited toward the beginning of their careers and later down the line.

The results suggest that scientists who were least innovative early on in their careers typically ended up dropping out of the field and stopped publishing research altogether. The scholars who were hungry from the jump were the ones who continued to pump out papers decades later.

“Early in their careers, scientists show a wide range of innovativeness. But over time, we see selective attrition of the people who are less innovative,” says Weinberg. “So when you look at all biomedical scientists as a group, it doesn’t look like innovation is declining over time. But the fact that the least innovative researchers are dropping out when they are relatively young disguises the fact that, for any one person, innovativeness tends to decline over their career.”

Weinberg doesn’t attribute these losses to lack of desire alone. Women and people from disenfranchised communities often don’t have the same tools or support to succeed, although this study didn’t look into these variables deeply.

Overall, the team gathers from their work that organizations traditionally dedicated to funding scientists should be mindful of striking a balance between supporting youth efforts and long-term experience. With time comes more knowledge, experience, and exposure that enhances skillset, but it doesn’t hold as much weight as it could if the person doesn’t have the drive to grow anymore.

The findings are published in the journal Human Resources.


  1. Maybe it is because as you get older your responsibilities and stress increase?
    Having to pay bills, the pressure to publish, managing — all cut into the time and mental energy of even creative people.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *