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Nobel Prize Winners Live Longer 144

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the torturing-the-data dept.
anthemaniac writes "A new study finds those who won Nobel Prizes between 1901 and 1950 lived about 2 years longer than nominees who didn't win. The researchers conclude that the instantly conferred social status leads to health benefits. From the story: 'The research rules out the possibility that intervening prize-related money itself adds the years through improved prosperity.' If you're thinking of aiming for the prize, pick the right field. Nobel laureates in physics lived nearly a year longer than winners in chemistry."
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Nobel Prize Winners Live Longer

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  • They live longer (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Who235 (959706) <secretagentx9.cia@com> on Friday January 19, 2007 @12:16AM (#17676484)
    Except for the 1903 and 1911 winner.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by maroberts (15852)
      Well, Pierre Curie got run over by a Carriage. Could've happened to anyone.

      Marie Curie had only herself to blame; winning the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1911 obviously cancelled out the beneficial effects of winning the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1903.
  • Three Words (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Correlation, causation, etcetera.
    • Count again (Score:2, Offtopic)

      by Bromskloss (750445)
      Correlation, causation, etcetera.
      Et cetera [] are two words.
    • Are the investigators the same who said that global warming, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters are a direct effect of the shrinking numbers of Pirates since the 1800s.

    • Meh. (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Larus (983617)
      Physics and chemistry before 1950s were mainly conducted in developed countries under very supportive atmosphere. Physics and chemistry today are conducted near everywhere in university labs, mostly insufficiently funded, overshadowed by other technological developments such as stem cells and nano-transistors. The PhDs either work in fields totally irrelevant to their studies (on Wall St. or in booming high tech) or get their lives squeezed out of them by constant pressure to publish and the tenureship ra
    • by Mr2cents (323101)
      Indeed. Let's turn it around: People who live longer have more chance of winning a Nobel prize.
  • by MustardMan (52102) on Friday January 19, 2007 @12:19AM (#17676504)
    It really bugs me when they post these things as if they are fact, and then give no indication whatsoever about how accurate the results are. You're talking about 135 winners out of 524 nominees - not exactly a huge sample size. Is it that hard to put in a few extra characters telling you what the error bars are? Something as simple as "the researchers found that nobel winners live 2 (+/- 0.5) years on average" would do, as would a sentence saying "the standard deviation was 0.5". How are we supposed to make any judgement about the validity of the study if we don't at least have the tiniest insight into the statsitics?
    • by gvc (167165) on Friday January 19, 2007 @12:42AM (#17676660)
      After some effort, I found the actual article. The popular press account was bad, even for the popular press, failing to give the title of the paper and giving the author's name only parenthetically.

      In any event, here is the article: []

      The article contains at least one claim to "significance at the 5% level" but as far as I can see it is a working paper, not (yet) published in a refereed venue. The author appears to have other credible publications relating to the effect of windfalls on people.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by sam_handelman (519767)
        I'd guess that it's around the border of statistical significance.

        The standard deviation in the life expectancy of the general population is about 10 years (meaning - 2/3 people die between 67 and 87), although IIRC it's got a lot of skew.

        Anyway, the smaller of the two samples is 135 people, so the error in the estimate of that mean is roughly 10 / sqrt(134) ~= 10/12, so two sigma is about 20 months, and the life expectancy difference is 24 months, so it's significant to 5%.

        Well, ok
        • by Moraelin (679338) on Friday January 19, 2007 @04:22AM (#17678016) Journal

          The standard deviation in the life expectancy of the general population is about 10 years (meaning - 2/3 people die between 67 and 87), although IIRC it's got a lot of skew.

          Anyway, the smaller of the two samples is 135 people, so the error in the estimate of that mean is roughly 10 / sqrt(134) ~= 10/12, so two sigma is about 20 months, and the life expectancy difference is 24 months, so it's significant to 5%.

          Well, then you've really made the point as to why the article is bogus, eh? Yes, they make a "nearly two years" claim at the top, but if you read a bit further: "The average lifespan for the nominees (including winners) was 76 years. Winners worldwide lived 1.4 years longer on average, and winners from the same country as non-winning nominees lived another two-thirds of a year, on average."

          So lemme see. If you take the whole sample, the difference was 1.4 years, or 1.4 * 12 = 16.8 months. I'm still not done with the morning coffee, so please correct me if I'm wrong, but 16.8 months is a bit lower than the 20 months you've calculated for two sigma.

          I find it more interesting when they restrict it to winners from the same country, since, well, only then it's really apples to apples. (You'd expect that someone from the USA would live longer than someone from, say, India. Doubly so when there's data from the early 1900's.) Then it's only 2/3 of a year, or 8 months difference. Quite a bit lower than 20 months, I would say. Plus, it's inherently a lot of smaller samples, so even the 20 months figure would become larger.

          More importantly, that difference between "winners vs nominees everywhere" and "winners vs nominees from the same country" tells me that the first one might not be entirely unbiased as samples go. If, say, more winners come from the top industrialized nations with high standards of living, while the larger nominees sample include more people from some poorer countries too, that alone could account for the the 8.8 months difference in the two figures.

          I haven't properly studied the names and countries of origin for everyone, but for physics and chemistry it sounds at least like a _believable_ kind of bias: you don't see third world countries building big cyclotrons (for advanced physics research) or having advanced big pharma companies (for advanced chemistry research.) Something like, say, the prize for literature might have been a less biased sample: you don't need lab equipment and funding in the billions to write a book. And if the only cause there is that winning a prize and resulting alpha-monkey status instantly gives you some extra months, then the effect should be the same there too.

          This gets funnier when you add this quote into the mix: "Oswald and Rablen found that Nobel laureates in physics lived an average of almost a year longer than laureates in chemistry."

          Err... wait a minute. Let's do some maths there, then. Assuming there have been roughly as many winners in physics and chemistry, to keep the average, then the 16.8 months figure becomes something like 22.8 months for physics and 10.8 months for chemistry. It may look like now the physics number is finally signifficant, but it also means half the sample, so sigma is 120 months / sqrt(67) ~= 120 / 8 = 15 months, so two sigma is 30 months. Hmm, now even the figure for physicists is still less significant, and the figure for chemists is outright useless.

          Let's apply that piece of wisdom for the "winners vs nominees from the same country", since, again, that's really the only one which doesn't have a built-in bias. To keep the 8 month average and assuming again equal numbers from the same country it becomes 14 months for the physicists and 2 months for the chemists. Frankly, living 2 months longer as a chemistry winner already starts to sound thoroughly insignifficant. But probably that 1 year difference doesn't apply here too, or is proportioanlly reduced too, so let's ignore this.

          Was there some other difference between

    • Yeah, I was wondering how statistically significant this even is. I think reporters should be made to give links to the actual study so that people can investigate the underlying numbers.
    • If you RTFA you find this: "Winners worldwide lived 1.4 years longer on average, and winners from the same country as non-winning nominees lived another two-thirds of a year, on average." Of course with no standard deviations or confidence intervals published we don't know IF 1.4 or 2/3 is really good or just so-so and how that lifetime compares to the population in general.

      The REAL trick is to win an Oscar, you live 3.6 yrs longer than the nominees that didn't win. Now considering to get to the point you a
    • by modecx (130548)
      We all know they live longer so they can spend more time gloating and the rest of the oldies just die because they run out if things to do.
    • by Perseid (660451) on Friday January 19, 2007 @01:10AM (#17676850)
      Yeah, but you see this study might get them the nobel prize. Then they can live longer. Thus the great cycle is complete. If we can get everyone to write articles on how nobel winners live longer we can all win the prize and everyone can live forever.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Idbar (1034346)
      That really means that if you try too hard and don't get the Nobel you lose 2 years of your like.
      It's literally killing your self. Therefore, relax and stop thinking about getting a Nobel.

      I don't think it worth trying to get one because: not only you'll probably don't get it, but you'll be condemned to die sooner than the #@!%!$ who took it from you!.
    • by iminplaya (723125)
      For reasonably accurate results, they probably should get a few more years worth of data. Say about 50,000 oughta do it.
    • by nkv (604544)
      Are these people jobless or something? What's the point of conducting a "study" to figure out the health benefits of winning a Nobel prize? Am I the only one who sees this as a mostly wasted effort?
    • Jeez, relax, man. Here, have a nobel prize. Happy now, you long lived sonuvabi---

    • There is no error bar. If they did not take a sample, there is absolutely, positively no "error". We only get this error when we take a sample to represent a larger whole.

      Now, if you argue that they are off base using this to determine that "social status" was the result of this longer lifespan, I will agree. Using 500 folks to make a determination about the six billion people on earth, is ridiculous.
  • samples (Score:3, Insightful)

    by caffeinemessiah (918089) on Friday January 19, 2007 @12:19AM (#17676512) Journal
    Nobel winners - that's a MASSIVE sample size, eh? Especially when comparing against the general population. This sounds NOT like cheesy made-for-CNN sensationalism.
    • The sample size is of the Nobel prize nominees that did not win and those that did win-- not against the general population. The question they are asking is: Is there a significant difference in lifespan between the 135 individuals who received a Nobel prize and the 389 nominees (assuming winners were also the nominees) that did not. I don't see anything wrong with that population size for the questions that they are asking.
  • obviously (Score:5, Funny)

    by macadamia_harold (947445) on Friday January 19, 2007 @12:20AM (#17676514) Homepage
    If you're thinking of aiming for the prize, pick the right field. Nobel laureates in physics lived nearly a year longer than winners in chemistry.

    No doubt because they were in better physic-al condition.
  • oh.... nice (Score:3, Funny)

    by zappepcs (820751) on Friday January 19, 2007 @12:20AM (#17676518) Journal
    guess I'll live a couple years longer than the rest of you
    • by Idbar (1034346)
      I'm not interested in one, that takes me out of the study and consequently I'll live anonymously much longer than you.

      Long live to longevity!

      I didn't post anonymously because I'm sure in your infinite pride for your price, you won't even remember my name.
  • There are old chemists and bold chemists. There are no old bold chemists.

    A bit of heavy metal here, a bit there, a perchloric acid spill, a falling piece of glassware, a leaky gas jet...
    • by r00t (33219)
      They don't die like the chemists do. They only go blind, usually blaming it on the laser.
  • If you don't mod me up, I'll die earlier. Modding Down = Murder. Please, think of others. Mod up. A public service announcement.
  • But how did this average age of the Nobel winners compare to the average life expectancy of the general population? That something I didn't see in TFA.
  • bad (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 19, 2007 @12:35AM (#17676604)
    *whacks CowboyNeal with a rolled up newspaper*

    • I'd have modded you insightful if I had some mod points. I don't know why this article was deemed fit to be posted on /. - May be there should be a 'Trivia' or 'Tabloid' section here and these articles can be lined up for that section.
  • by gillbates (106458) on Friday January 19, 2007 @12:39AM (#17676640) Homepage Journal

    • Workout 3 to 5 times a week - check.
    • Eat a high fiber, low cholesterol diet - check.
    • Stopped smoking - check.
    • Started drinking two drinks a night - check* [].
    • Win the Nobel prize - er, umm...
    • by elrous0 (869638) *
      Well, if drinking 2 drinks a night helps you to live a little longer, I should live for hundreds of years.


  • Of course (Score:5, Insightful)

    by YGingras (605709) <> on Friday January 19, 2007 @12:43AM (#17676670) Homepage
    They are already old when they win and the ones who dies young can't win. Noble stated that no dead person could win the Nobel Prize. Many often object that Rosalind Franklin [] the Prize with Watson and Crick but the fact is that she was already dead and Nobel Prize didn't have the power to name her even if they believed that she was deserving.
    • by YGingras (605709)
      that Rosalind Franklin the Prize with Watson and Crick
      Of course that should read "that Rosalind Franklin should have won the Prize with Watson and Crick"
    • They are already old when they win and the ones who dies young can't win. Noble stated that no dead person could win the Nobel Prize.

      An interesting idea, but I'm pretty sure you have to be alive to be nominated, too.

      • by cnettel (836611)
        Yeah, but it means that you might need to consider how many times the winners were nominated before winning the prize, and verify whether that makes the group stand out from the non-winners, i.e. some individuals that were nominated probably didn't get the prize simply because they happened to die, even though they, in retrospect, were just as worthy. Staying alive increases your chance of being nominated multiple times and getting the recognition needed to get the prize.
    • by abergou (674497)
      Mod parent up - if you take the life expectancy of Nobel prize winners then you are doing a form of post selection.
    • Noble stated that no dead person could win the Nobel Prize.

      Any reference for that? I don't know of any such restriction, because I am very much interested in the debate about why Mahatma Gandhi did not win Nobel prize and have heard of a lot of excuses (I am biased, I call them excuses) - one of them for the year 1948 and how the committee did not want to give it to Gandhi because he was dead and there was no precedent of awarding a Nobel prize posthumously. There was never a mention of Nobel stating that n
      • []:

        Nobody had ever been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize posthumously. But according to the statutes of the Nobel Foundation in force at that time, the Nobel Prizes could, under certain circumstances, be awarded posthumously. Thus it was possible to give Gandhi the prize. However, Gandhi did not belong to an organisation, he left no property behind and no will; who should receive the Prize money? The Director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute, August Schou, asked another of the Committee's advisers

    • The authors performed a survival analysis (see here []) to correct for nominees who might have won but died first, as well as other methods to reduce possible biases.
    • by elrous0 (869638) *
      Well, there goes my chances of winning one posthumously too. But I still maintain that the world will one day celebrate my genius, as the guy who invented the KFC Mashed Potato Bowl.


  • Is the study trying to make some sort of a general conclusion that winners live longer than losers? .. because if all they're trying to conclude is whats stated in the headline, then I think the old adage applies: ... nothing to see here.. move right along.
  • Winners live slightly longer than nominees? Well..seeing as anyone can be nominated, this proves exactly nothing.

    I'll bet Tookie Williams [] skewed the sample a little bit.
  • there will come the time of the gathering, when those who remain will fight for the prize... there can be only one!

    no? not that prize?
  • by haakondahl (893488) on Friday January 19, 2007 @01:09AM (#17676836)
    What this scant research has found is a correlation between Nobel winners and longer life. What it has NOT proven is a causal relationship. The weak-kneed nonsense about "social benefits conferred" is a presumed conclusion laid on top of some research which may or may not support it.

    This is a better conclusion: People who tend to win also tend to live longer, due to a separate causal factor.

    Now gimme my Nobel Prize. I just corrected a bunch of Junk Scientists.

    • Not that I blame you (as if you did read the article, it is rather vague), but if you look up the paper they are trying to address the causal relationships and not a simple correlation.

      From: r ch/papers/twerp_785.pdf [] (Emphasis added)

      After controlling for other factors -- most significantly the possibility of reverse causation from longevity to winning a Nobel Prize -- the paper's best estimate is that winners live approximately two years longer than do nominees. Tests amongst the winners reveal no relationship between the real value of the Prize and longevity. Status, rather than money, appears to be responsible for our effect.

      • How did they control for so-called "reverse" causation? Off the top of my head, I would limit the sample set to those who won the prize before a cut-off age, which might be the youngest age of death of any nominee. Not sure about that, but that's where I would start.

        NONE OF WHICH ADDRESSES the issue of non-causality--that these are both effects of some other cause. What they have identified is a small syndrome (a collection of symptoms or behaviors), but because there are only two elements, they leap to

  • by Anonymous Coward
    So the Secret of Immortality is to win a Nobel Prize every other year.

    -- Prof. Jonathan Vos Post
  • I'll bet that the Nobel prize winners for statistics live longest of all.
  • I work with a Nobel Laureate, and I was shocked to learn he is 70; I have been thinking was in his early 60's for years.
    • by Tim Browse (9263)

      I have been thinking was in his early 60's for years.

      Out of interest, for how many years have you been thinking that?

  • Guess I'll have to go out and win the Nobel prize. Since there's a lot I can do about that. That's some top-notch research, very applicable to my life.
  • so many things wrong (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dheera (1003686) on Friday January 19, 2007 @01:35AM (#17677026) Homepage
    there are so many things wrong with such an analysis. the fact that Nobel prize winners live longer is a correlation, not a cause-and-effect relationship.

    You can't immediately blame it on social status. For all we know, it could be because they're being shuttled around the world giving lectures everywhere, such that they get better exercise; it could be that they're being given more money and have a more relaxed personal life to eat better; it could be a lot of other things.
    • by hackstraw (262471) *
      there are so many things wrong with such an analysis. the fact that Nobel prize winners live longer is a correlation, not a cause-and-effect relationship.

      Well, to make it less-scientific, in my observations, really smart people do tend to live longer than average.

      I'm just picking random people here, but Newton lived 84 years back when people were living, what? 40 on average. Darwin lived 73 years. Einstein 76 years (died in 1955, so he his closer to average).

      Heck, look at Stephen Hawking. []
      • by dheera (1003686)
        Could it just be that smart people also eat smart, live well, know how to take care of their bodies, and being smart, make enough money to pay all their medical expenses?
  • Narrow Sample Set? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Bonker (243350) on Friday January 19, 2007 @01:44AM (#17677088)
    Nobel Prize Nominees as the control, and Nobel Prize Winners as the sample?

    Gee criminey... It's like using tweezers to pick up sand grains on the far shore of the bell curve to see how sandy they are.

    An analysis of 524 nominees for the Nobels in physics and in chemistry between 1901 and 1950 showed that the group's 135 winners lived about two years longer than the also-rans. The finding points to the health benefits of social status and suggests that status benefits the bodies of the cerebrally normal too.

    A single car crash could have skewed your margins on that.
  • I for one welcome our new peace prize winning immortal overlords.
  • So if some super scientist comes along and gives us spectacular work every year so he gets nobel prizes every year, then wouldn't he be able to live forever?
  • I bet that [url= d]Rutherford[/url] would have been even more annoyed about winning the Chemistry price if he saw this 'research'
  • Bill Sharpe (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Mean Variance (913229) <> on Friday January 19, 2007 @02:05AM (#17677214)
    I work for a company founded by Bill Sharpe (NP in Economics shared with Markowitz). Obviously an empirical observation, but the guy is in his early 70's and is still actively involved with research with the company and just did a private book signing for the employees.

    I think it goes with that theory of the brain's "use it or lose it" feature. I bet you live a little longer when you feel you have a reason to get up in the morning and do something. This guy does.

  • Come on. Why is this news? Intelligence correlates with many behaviors that increase longevity, including eating right and exercising more. I hope (at least) that they expected this to be the case in their hypothesis...
  • I wonder if the researchers will win a Nobel Prize for this discovery...
  • So whiners don't live longer than winners. Whats new in that?
  • Perhaps Nobel prize winners had higher intelligence and thus had more brain cells to waste before they went senile?

  • by bitt3n (941736) on Friday January 19, 2007 @02:43AM (#17677440)
    I bet they'll find the results much more striking if they investigate recipients of the Darwin award.
  • Two Aussies won the Nobel for Medicine by proving that stomach ulcers are caused bacteria rather than 'stress' as used to be beleived. They proved it when one of them, on the spur of the moment, drank a vat containing the bacteria. He said he felt very sick afterwards, and he also he survived the bacteria it was his wife who nearly killed him! :-)

    BTW although his is now accepted, at the time they were ridiculed by other scientists who though the idea preposterous. Got to be inpependent thinkers, Slashdo

  • by sam991 (995040)
    Maybe, just maybe it has something to do with the million dollars.
  • Dr. Leon Lederman [] may be living longer, but he is quite out of it. He tends fall asleep at most everything, be it a lecture by a physicist he invited, or a lecture he's giving himself. Perhaps he's always been that way. What do I know? I don't have a Nobel prize.
  • Give nobel prize to _everyone_. If you think, it is not cost effective, revise nobel prize monetary reward, such that it would cost nothing to do so. Everyone wins.
  • two things:
    -This study is a candidate for an ig Nobel prize
    -What will be the effect if they win? positive or negative?
  • Yet another notch on the bedpost of wasted time labelled as research. Besides the fact that a 2-year old with a basic spreadsheet and the appropriate data could reach the same conclusions, I humbly propose that nobody really cares.
  • Cool! Finally we have some real "scientific" method to enlarge people's life. Well, at least some people's life...
  • by glomph (2644) on Friday January 19, 2007 @06:19AM (#17678522) Homepage Journal
    All these bogus statistics items remind me of the story of the nerd who (for his own security) always would sneak a bomb on the plane, because of the obvious logic- "What's the probability of TWO independent bombs on the same plane?"
  • I think it could be because Nobel Prize winners are usually quite old. Many people are nominated for years before they are selected. I guess nominees are younger on average. Thus the winners have already survived more years, and are likely to live longer.

    On a side note, Nobel Prize nomination means very little. It only requires a nomination from any of the large number of people allowed to nominate.
  • This does not necessarily signify what the author thinks it does. Being of better health - that is, smarter, taller, etc - will influence socioeconomic status (this is as far as I know generally known, I'll dig up references if necessary), and there is no reason to think that this won't also influence the chance of winning the Nobel prize rather than being nominated for it. It will also influence the average lifespan.

    Research in these particular areas are extremely hard; evolution has mixed together bei

  • Well..Nobel is not awarded it?. Then only those who live longer get the Nobel!!!
  • While a lot of these people who win the Nobel Prize sound humbled and surprised. My guess is that a lot of them focused their life work towards getting the Nobel Prize, at least when they realize that they are on to something big. With heavy competition and arguing with the other who are trying to get the prize. So after they win there stress levels will drop because they are no longer competing for the prize and if someone argues with them they can just go well how many Nobel Prizes do you have?... Right.
  • Marie Curie?
  • I can't find links to the original papers at short notice (sorry) but I believe it is well established that there is a correlation between longevity and socio-economic status as well as educational attainment. On average PhDs live longer than people with Masters who live longer than people with first degrees - and so it goes. I believe it has been demonstrated that there is a correlation between longevity and where you live on two particular subway lines, one in London and one in New York, which move betwee
  • by Ambitwistor (1041236) on Friday January 19, 2007 @09:24AM (#17679544)
    Every time I see a social science study posted here on Slashdot, everyone comes out of the woodwork with "correlation doesn't equal causation", or "this study is obviously [true|false] because of so-and-so obvious effect", etc. Please give the authors some credit. They did consider various biasing effects, such as Nobel nominee age, the fact that nominees may die before being awarded the prize, they examined alternative causal factors such as the possibility that the winners' longevity was due to their increased income, and so on. Sure, correlation isn't causation and this study doesn't prove anything, but it's not as shoddy as the Slashdot armchair experts seem to think. Read the paper [], or a brief summary [] by a statistician unrelated to the study.
  • ...someone could do the same study for people that have won Time's Man of the Year!
  • Anyone can see that the rich and famous tend to live better and longer than the poor and ordinary
    Bollocks they can. Blog []

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