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January 26, 2007


Mark Wadsworth

The findings may be correct but the inference is probably wrong.

They appear to have overlooked the facts that
a) Nobel prizes are not given post-humously.
b) There are many famous examples where the prize was awarded decades after the research was published etc.

Ergo, for a given group of equally deserving nominees, the committee is more likely to award something to the older rather than the younger candidates. Firstly there are more older candidates to choose from, and secondly, if a chap is on his last legs they'll give him the benefit of the doubt.

The figures would have to be re-worked to control for the fact that the Nobel prize winner is probably older than the other nominees at the time of nomination.

E.g. if you take a group of 80 years olds and a group of 10 year olds, the 10 year olds have a much higher remaining life expectancy, but a LOWER total life expectancy as many will die before they reach 80.


It's a good point, Mark - but the authors anticipated it. They compared prize-winners' longevity to that of non-winners of equal age.


The wealth point is a hoot because they used only the Nobel bit of someone's wealth, not the total. And must, I suppose, have ended up studying rather a narrow range of wealth, so that any correlation would be silly.
Anyway, I hope it rubs off. I went to a party once where my host said "Come to the kitchen - I've got three Nobel prize winners in there."


I think there is a sampling problem. The entire increase in longevity for Nobel winners is due to the inclusion of Milton Friedman.

Fabian Tassano

The possible explanations that (a) there is a correlation between intellectual and physical superiority (gosh, doesn't that sound politically incorrect), or (b) that higher ability leads to better dietary behaviour, seem to be given scant space by either of the papers referenced.

I note the first paper refers to a study on monkeys which claims to have controlled for these possible factors by "manipulating rank". That seems to be as close as we get to a discussion of the alternatives. I'm unable to read the monkey study as it isn't online, but I would be surprised if monkey troops are really as amenable to exogenous leader selection as this suggests.


"or (b) that higher ability leads to better dietary behaviour"

I love the idea that Nobel runners-up are sat around each tea time eating Iceland chicken dippers with oven chips and tomato sauce.

Mark Wadsworth

kharris, that something else that puzzles me, how come famus economists seem to live until they're ninety but famous physicists peg it much sooner. And it's not just Friedman, it's Galbraith and so on.


Why is it "important that we at least ensure that inequalities in status are merited"?. What is the moral philosophy that allow you (or anyone else) to decide who has merited high status? To put it another way I dislike Paris Hilton and her shallow lifestyle but I am not going to elevate my preferences above others who consider her a "high status" individual.

dave heasman

"how come famus economists seem to live until they're ninety but famous physicists peg it much sooner"

Economists don't handle radioactive materials. Though some should.

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