Study Shows Recent Stark Decrease in "Disruptive" Science

According to a Nature study released this week, despite the ever-increasing number of science and technology papers published each year, the “disruptiveness” of the research is declining.

Study Shows Recent Stark Decrease in "Disruptive" Science
Image credit: forbes

Facts

  • According to a Nature study released this week, despite the ever-increasing number of science and technology papers published each year, the “disruptiveness” of the research is declining.
  • Russell Funk, a sociologist at the University of Minnesota, co-authored the study. The study considers “disruptive” science to be work that takes its field in a new direction instead of simply incrementally building on previous research.
  • Using citation data from 45M manuscripts and 3.9M patents, the study calculated the “CD index” as a measure of disruptiveness. If a paper is cited often while prior papers in the field decline in reference, it's considered to be more disruptive.
  • The statistical analysis showed up to a 100% decline in scientific papers’ disruptiveness between 1945 and 2010, while patents exhibited a 78.7% to 91.5% decline from 1980 to 2010.
  • Funk acknowledges that science has become more incremental in its developments and says that the trend isn't necessarily bad. He believes that, “A healthy scientific ecosystem is one where there's a mix of disruptive discoveries and consolidating improvement.”
  • There's no consensus as to why innovation in science is stagnating, but some believe it could be due to the need for constant publishing and the amount of time it takes to learn a field, which takes time away for more innovative work.

Sources: Nature, Technology Networks, Register, Twin-cities, and Science Alert.

Narratives

  • Establishment-critical narrative, as provided by Guardian. The scientific publishing business has become the enemy of progress. With the focus on producing studies that will bring the biggest hype, however transitory, and thus reap the biggest profits — coupled with the fact that academic careers depend almost entirely on the number of papers a researcher has authored, and the prestige of the journals in which they're published — there is little incentive to think outside the box or pursue disruptive science.
  • Pro-establishment narrative, as provided by SB Blog. Everyone wants to see exciting breakthroughs in science, and sometimes people overreact to a lack of innovation when a new study is released. However, incremental science is not a bad thing at all; in fact, it has led to extremely valuable work and lays a foundation for future research to continue exploring. Science is a team sport, and advancing the objectives benefit the team in the long run.
  • Cynical narrative, as provided by LI. Science is in decline, and the effects are chilling and palpable. Unfortunately, science is no longer defined by the pursuit of knowledge and innovation; it has been captured by political ideologues who would rather suppress research into “forbidden” topics rather than embrace daring adventures. As long as “science” is more concerned with racial quotas than it is with actual discovery, we will continue to see its sad decline.