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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
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Friday, January 26, 2007

Do Nobel laureates live longer? Harvard winner doubtful

Winning the Nobel Prize can add almost a year and a half to a laureate's life, two British economists say. But though he's 81,
Harvard physicist Roy J. Glauber, a 2005 Nobelist, isn't buying it.

"It strikes me as remarkably doubtful," he said.

The University of Warwick researchers, testing the idea that social status can influence quality of life and longevity, looked at nominees for the Nobel Prize in chemistry and physics from 1901 to 1950. They thought sudden success would tell them the effect of social status on the winners when compared to their nominated peers.

Winners lived to an average age of 77.2 years, 1.4 years longer than those who were simply nominated for the prize, who died at an average age of 75.8 years old. Varying amounts of prize money over the years didn't budge those averages, the researchers said.

But Glauber said the study might have been biased by the fact that many laureates aren't selected until they're quite old. Glauber won his Nobel 40 years after publishing his work on how light behaves.

"Needless to say, if you wait a long time in selecting any group of people, you've eliminated the people who have a short lifespan," he said in an interview. "That does load the dice in favor of longevity."

We won't know about Glauber's class of laureates for about another 50 years, when nominees' names are unsealed.

"You never know," he said. "Maybe a Nobel winner will live to be 150."

-- Elizabeth Cooney

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