The Atlantic

Maybe Einstein Was Wrong About This

A new analysis suggests an oft-cited claim about when astronomers peak is pretty off.
Source: Ivan Alvarado / Reuters

Of the many catchy quotes attributed to Albert Einstein, this may produce perhaps the most anxiety among the scientists who have come after him: “A person who has not made his great contribution to science before the age of 30 will never do so.”

The exact origins of the oft-cited statement are murky, so it’s difficult to determine whether the great theoretical physicist said it in seriousness or jest. Whatever the intention, research on the connections between age and scientific output have frequently—or at least, not exactly true for everyone. The study of these connections is far from new, and the results are usually tricky to extrapolate to larger populations. An effect found for top performers in one field may not necessarily apply for high achievers in another, for example. But the topic has long fascinated researchers and writers, including Helmut Abt, an astronomer and former longtime editor at

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