Monday, March 25, 2013

None of my coauthors has ever died!

A well-established legend is that more humans are alive today than have ever died. This almost seems possible (if you don’t think about it too closely) given the massive increase in human population size in recent times. The reality of course is not quite so amazing – for every human alive today, perhaps 15 have already died ( Another rumor is that members of the Royal Society of London are extraordinarily long-lived – thus providing proof that God really does appreciate good science, including of the evolutionary sort. Sadly, I couldn’t find quick verification of this anecdote, so what about some hard facts: you are likely to live longer if you eat less (but not too little), drink red wine (but not too much), are a woman, are Japanese, are richer, etc. All of these correlations, however, are not really that strong, or you can’t do anything about them.

While at the annual meeting of the Scientific Committee of DIVERSITAS in Paris, random thoughts led to the realization of a very strong correlation with life – and something you can influence! No one I have published with has ever died. I published my first paper in 1992, more than 20 years ago. During that time, I have had more than 185 different coauthors and, to the best of my (and Google’s) knowledge, none of them has departed. Thus far, the expected life span of people who published with me is statistically indistinguishable from infinity. I invite other participants to join us in this experiment, particularly those who expect or wish to live longer. I also encourage my existing coauthors to do what they can to extend this record, which is clearly in all of our interests. I admit that immortality is a long shot – but maybe if we all collaborate …


  1. A selection of comments from extant collaborators:

    - If not dead yet, your blog will surely kill me! biff

    - Now make sure you show this to students in class to have them understand that you can use statistics to 'prove' any BS hypothesis you can come up with! J-S

    - Actually dead or academically dead? We had a seminar speaker a couple months ago who worked with the statistics of extinction and how one can determine odds for whether an organism is extinct in the wild based on the record of observations over time. I came up with the idea that these same statistics could used on publication or citation data to define when a person’s academic career has gone extinct! Mike

    1. How does google know who is still alive? If it actually does, then it is quite creepy!


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