New ideas are struggling to emerge from the sea of science

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a flood of scientific papers Perhaps the irony is that Preventing new ideas from advancing – and slowing the progress of science.

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why it matters: Global warming, emerging viruses and the growing global burden of chronic diseases all underscore the need for fast, meaningful scientific innovations to help solve complex and consequential problems.

big picture: There is debate as to why the rate of scientific progress appears to be slowing down Despite an increase in the number of scientists, the amount of funding for their work and the amount of papers they published.

  • Some researchers believe the reason is fundamental: the low-hanging fruits of the discovery have already been plucked, meaning scientists will have to work harder and more money to get what’s left. Will have to invest.
  • Others say that as knowledge accumulates in greater quantities, researchers carry a heavy load To learn about an area.
  • But in science, new ideas can be reunited with old ideas and begin to multiply, making it difficult to tease out the drivers of stagnation, says Dashun Wang, who is at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. Science and Innovation directs the Science Center. .
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What they found: A new analysis suggests another possible source of stagnation: a deluge of new publications “ossification of canon,” write Johann Chu of Northwestern University and James Evans of the University of Chicago.

  • Chu and Evans argue that scientists are “cognitively overloaded” with a flood of papers to read, review, and cite, so they see how the work before them relates to well-established research. And the researchers predict that if ideas pop up in publications too fast, they’ll compete for attention and wash out each other.
  • They tested those predictions by analyzing more than 1.8 billion citations from about 90.6 million papers published between 1960 and 2014. in 10 major scientific fields.

they found huge inequality how papers are cited in those areas, they report In Proceedings of National Academies of Science.

  • For example, when there are about 10,000 papers published each year in the fields of electrical and electronic engineering, the top 1% most cited papers account for about 9% of total citations and the bottom 50% less-cited papers by 44%. Received quotes. When the region produced 100,000 papers per year, the top 1% received about 17% of citations while the bottom 50% received about 20%. That large disparity was not seen in smaller regions.
  • And “the most cited papers maintain their citation counts from year to year when the fields are large, while all other papers’ citation decay counts,” he writes. It crystallizes the canon.
  • They also found that in small areas, the papers gradually grow in the top brackets, while in larger areas, the papers that do Get it there fast in canon. “It is socially predetermined rather than scholarly,” says Chu, who led the work.
  • In large areas, most papers build on others – without disrupting canon But in smaller subjects, the chances of question papers being disruptive are high.
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Effect: Ideally, scientific publication is a mechanism for evaluating ideas, and then either advanced or discarded.

  • But, “there’s so much new work that we keep turning to the old stuff and not reversing it,” says Ethan Molick, who studies innovation at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

yes but: The authors acknowledge that there may be other explanations for their findings, including increasing quotients of an area and focusing as an area ages, but they state that area size still has the strongest effect. Is.

  • There are also open questions about how to define and measure concepts like innovation and areas that can bleed into each other, says Joshua Graf Zivin, an economist at the University of California, San Diego.

What will happen next: Perhaps ironically, more research is needed to try to tease out the mechanisms driving the findings.

  • Chu and Evans argue that a change in incentives and rewards for scientists to produce more science may fuel true progress.
  • But, but, but: It is not clear what balance would be best between radical and incremental science. Benefit Society, says Graf Zivin.

Bottom-line: As a scientist, “you get a lot of reward for doing something better. You get instant papers and a lot of praise,” says Konrad Kording, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania.

  • There is a deep addiction among scientists that they publish paper after paper in order to get funded and advance their careers, he says.
  • “You don’t get any rewards or praise for doing something different.”

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