The WSJ had a very interesting article about the fact that major breakthroughs are not being done by younger scientists as they were in the days of old. The basic line is that this is because of (a) demographics — there are more older scientists who claim the grants and/or (b) society is to blame and the institutions are biased against youth and destroying creativity. Funnily enough, they roll out two older economists — Tyler Cowen and Paul Romer — to reinforce those conclusions.
The alternative, of course, would have been to pay attention to the research of a relatively younger economist at Northwestern, Ben Jones, who over a few years of careful and comprehensive research has documented (i) the fact that scientists are older these days when their major breakthroughs are achieved and (ii) that the evidence supports the hypothesis that this isn’t a problem with society and institutions necessarily as it is with the fact that it just takes longer to get up to speed at the frontier of scientific knowledge and that team production in research is more important. The latter is where institutional details comes to bear in that scientific rewards are tailored to the individual. But his research offers a cautionary note on simply directing funds on the basis of youth because that may not be efficient if they are not at the frontier. There is much more and you can read about it in a paper Jones presented Tuesday at the NBER Conference on Innovation Policy and the Economy.