Age limits unproven

February 4, 2016

You report on the abstract of a Canadian study (“How to boost scientific production? A statistical analysis of research funding and other influencing factors”, published in Scientometrics) that purports to show that scientific productivity declines as scientists get older. I suggest that you read the rather flawed paper, as no such conclusion follows from the data, and the article actually states, “In general, older researchers can be more productive.”

Because the study uses only Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada funding, it is irretrievably biased (in the statistical sense). Oddly, it presents this as a virtue: “the common procedure in the similar studies is extracting the funded researchers’ data and then gathering all the articles that were published by those researchers. This must have resulted in an over-estimation of the number of articles, as researchers usually use several sources of funding.” Obviously older people may simply have a different proportion of “other funding”. The “career age” (date since first publication) extends only to 15 years, which means only to researchers in their forties, but “it seems that as the career age of the researcher grows, his/her productivity also increases and peaks at a certain age”. The largest correlation coefficient is just 0.37, and that is between the number of articles in adjacent years by individuals. The p‑values are high simply because of the large number of observations (84,048). Overall, the data do not allow one to draw any worthwhile conclusions on any relationship between career age and scientific productivity.

Douglas Kell, aged 62 and ¾
Research chair in bioanalytical science
University of Manchester


Send to

Letters should be sent to: THE.Letters@tesglobal.com
Letters for publication in Times Higher Education should arrive by 9am Monday.
View terms and conditions.

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

United Nations peace keeper

Understanding the unwritten rules of graduate study is vital if you want to get the most from your PhD supervision, say Kevin O'Gorman and Robert MacIntosh

Eleanor Shakespeare illustration (5 January 2017)

Fixing problems in the academic job market by reducing the number of PhDs would homogenise the sector, argues Tom Cutterham

Houses of Parliament, Westminster, government

There really is no need for the Higher Education and Research Bill, says Anne Sheppard

poi, circus

Kate Riegle van West had to battle to bring her circus life and her academic life together

man with frozen beard, Lake Louise, Canada

Australia also makes gains in list of most attractive English-speaking nations as US slips