Wednesday, September 11, 2019
Inside Higher Ed, Scientific Advancement, ‘1 Funeral at a Time’:
The life sciences benefit from death — the death of star researchers. So concludes a recently published paper in American Economic Review [Pierre Azoulay (MIT), Christian Fons-Rosen (UC-Merced) & Joshua S. Graff Zivin (UC-San Diego), Does Science Advance One Funeral at a Time?, 109 Am. Econ. Rev. 2889 (2019)].
But co-author Pierre Azoulay, professor of management at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, warns, tongue in cheek, that it’s not an implicit invitation to plot against life sciences luminaries. Instead, Azoulay said in a recent interview, it’s a reason for journal editors and funding agencies to think even harder about who they’re supporting, and why. ...
[I]n the “circle of academic life,” Azoulay said, superstars may “overstay their welcome at the top of their fields.” So “we should probably think a little bit more systematically about this, and open up our practices in the realms of funding and publishing in ways that create more entry points — and make it faster for new ideas to challenge old ones.” ...
Azoulay and his co-authors examined the relationship between the relatively early or sudden deaths of 452 eminent scientists between 1975 and 2003 and the subsequent “vitality” of the field, measured in publication rates and flow of federal funding. ...
Following the deaths of star scientists, subfields saw an 8.6 percent increase in articles published by those scientists who had not previously collaborated with the late luminaries. Those papers were disproportionately likely to be highly cited. All effects are compared to control subfields, which are associated with superstars who did not die. The effects were more pronounced for those who were previously "outsiders" to the subfields.
Christopher Koivisto, assistant professor in biochemistry and molecular biology at the Medical University of South Carolina, said he thinks there’s “a dangerous tendency among scientists to become overly dogmatic within their respective field.” And when an “outsider makes an observation or conclusion that challenges their dogma, they are reluctant to accept it.”