Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Nobels: Young and Old

I realized my view of the Nobel prizes has been biased by the Economics Nobel (yes, I know, not really a Nobel) which is generally given to an economist well into his or her august years.  Perhaps it is a function of our quasi-science (pseudo-science?; quackery?) that it takes a long time to develop a body of research that means anything truly useful.  So when I saw the face of physics Nobel laureate Adam Reiss my immediate thought was of how young he looked and, in fact is: he is 41.

So it got me thinking about how young the youngest Nobel laureate of all time was and what are the average ages for the prizes.  And wouldn't you know but the Nobel organization themselves has a handy se of tables for such things.

Here are the youngest ever:

Here are the oldest ever:

It looks like physicists are well represented among the youngest, while the geezers are from all over.  But my impression of economics is basically correct, the youngest ever is 51 and it also has the oldest laureate (which I guess means that economists lead long lives):  

Two things come to mind in looking at this: one is the old adage in math that mathematicians are essentially washed up by 35; and the other is that as the economics prize is relatively young, it has been playing catch-up - trying to award the big contributors before they croak and become ineligible.  The really youngest on the list are the physicists from the golden age of physics - what a great time it must have been! Notice how among the oldest are physicists who won the prize in the 21st century.  The truly big discoveries in physics are bloody hard now and take a lifetime perhaps.

Why you should find this interesting is beyond me but I am tired of writing about how bad the world economy is tanking....

1 comment:

Jeff Alworth said...

Any ideas on the means and medians? Because, aside from a 42-year-old outlier, my sense is that the literature laureates are generally pretty old. It takes quite a bit of time to build up a body of novels or poetry worthy of a nobel and there's very little way to hurry it. Among poets, anyone under 40 is considered "young."