Do Long-Lived Scientists Hold Back Their Disciplines?

That’s the ques­tion sug­gested by a new pa­per in the Amer­i­can Eco­nomic Re­view. Here’s the ab­stract:

We study the ex­tent to which em­i­nent sci­en­tists shape the vi­tal­ity of their ar­eas of sci­en­tific in­quiry by ex­am­in­ing en­try rates into the sub­fields of 452 aca­demic life sci­en­tists who pass away pre­ma­turely. Con­sis­tent with pre­vi­ous re­search, the flow of ar­ti­cles by col­lab­o­ra­tors into af­fected fields de­creases pre­cip­i­tously af­ter the death of a star sci­en­tist. In con­trast, we find that the flow of ar­ti­cles by non-col­lab­o­ra­tors in­creases by 8.6% on av­er­age. Th­ese ad­di­tional con­tri­bu­tions are dis­pro­por­tionately likely to be highly cited. They are also more likely to be au­thored by sci­en­tists who were not pre­vi­ously ac­tive in the de­ceased su­per­star’s field. In­tel­lec­tual, so­cial, and re­source bar­ri­ers all im­pede en­try, with out­siders only en­ter­ing sub­fields that offer a less hos­tile land­scape for the sup­port and ac­cep­tance of “for­eign” ideas. Over­all, our re­sults sug­gest that once in con­trol of the com­mand­ing heights of their fields, star sci­en­tists tend to hold on to their ex­alted po­si­tion a bit too long.

This seems rele­vant to con­ver­sa­tions about life ex­ten­sion. I’m un­easy about life ex­ten­sion re­search, but one of the ar­gu­ments I’ve heard given for it is that when peo­ple die, we lose all of their knowl­edge and wis­dom. This ar­ti­cle sug­gests that maybe hav­ing peo­ple live for longer would hold other sources of knowl­edge and wis­dom back.