Rate of Scientific Advances Slowing Over Time: Study

Rate of Scientific Advances Slowing Over Time: Study

The researchers called the measurement of gravitational waves a “disturbing” recent breakthrough.

The pace of breakthrough scientific discoveries and technological innovation is slowing despite an ever-increasing amount of knowledge, according to an analysis released Wednesday of millions of research papers and patents.

While previous research has shown declines in individual disciplines, the study is the first to “strongly and convincingly document this decline in disruption across all major fields of science and technology,” said the lead author Michael Park at AFP.

Park, a doctoral student at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, called disruptive discoveries those that “depart from existing ideas” and “push the entire scientific field into new territory.”

The researchers gave a “disruption score” to 45 million scientific articles dating from 1945 to 2010 and 3.9 million US patents from 1976 to 2010.

From the beginning of these time intervals, research works and patents are increasingly likely to consolidate or build on prior knowledge, according to findings published in the journal Nature.

The ranking was based on how articles were cited in other studies five years after publication, assuming that the more disruptive the research, the less its predecessors were cited.

The largest decline in disruptive research occurred physical sciences such as physics and chemistry.

“The nature of research is changing” as incremental innovations become more common, said lead study author Russell Funk.

Knowledge load

One theory for the decline is that all the “low-hanging fruit” of science has already been plucked.

If that were the case, disruption in various scientific fields would have fallen at different speeds, Park said.

But instead, “the declines are pretty consistent in their speeds and times across all the major fields,” Park said, indicating that the low-hanging fruit theory is unlikely to be the culprit.

Instead, the researchers pointed to what has been dubbed “the research burden,” suggesting that there is now so much that scientists must learn to master in a particular field that they have little time left to push the limits

This causes scientists and inventors to “focus on a narrow slice of existing knowledge, which leads them to find something more consolidating than disruptive,” Park said.

Another reason could be that “there is increasing pressure in academia to publish, publish, publish, because that is the metric on which academics are evaluated,” he added.

The researchers appealed to universities and funding agencies focus more on quality than quantity, and consider full grants for one-year sabbaticals to enable academics to read and think more deeply.

“We are not becoming less innovative as a species,” Park stressed, pointing to recent advances such as the use of mRNA technology in vaccines against COVID-19 or the measurement of gravitational waves in 2015.

Jerome Lamy, a historian and expert in the sociology of science at the French research agency CNRS, who was not involved in the research, said it showed that “ultra-specialisation” and pressure to publish had increased over the years .

He blamed a global trend of academics “being forced to cut their papers” to increase their publication numbers, saying it had led to “a dulling of research”.

More information:
Michael Park et al, Papers and Patents Are Becoming Less Harmful Over Time, Nature (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-05543-x

© 2023 AFP

Summons: Rate of Scientific Breakthroughs Slowing Over Time: Study (2023, January 4) Retrieved January 5, 2023, from

This document is subject to copyright. Other than any fair dealing for private study or research purposes, no part may be reproduced without written permission. Content is provided for informational purposes only.

#Rate #Scientific #Advances #Slowing #Time #Study

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button