National Science Foundation statistics show that in 1986 there were 835,500 U.S. scientists and engineers who were 55 years of age or older and still employed. Surprisingly, there are no reliable statistics on the number of retired scientists and engineers, according to the American Association of Retired Persons.

Despite this knowledge gap, it is reasonable to assume that many thousands of scientists are nearing or in retirement. This number will increase in line with the well-established demographic trend of an aging workforce in the U.S.

Elder scientists, like elder statesmen, offer many opportunities for society to benefit from their experience and wisdom. Yet we tend to ignore the role they could play in the vitality of our nation'a educational, scientific, and economic enterpises. It is time to ask how the varied talents of elder scientists might best be applied.

Retired scientists could, for instance, alleviate the already acute shortage of...

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