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Scientific publications and technological innovations are increasing exponentially, but major discoveries that dramatically advance science are declining over time, according to a Nature study published on Wednesday.
The authors of the study, Carlson School of Management researchers, despite the acceleration in the production of knowledge, a paradox of slow-moving science has already been documented for certain research areas such as semiconductors or pharmaceuticals. Minnesota (USA).
They wanted to measure it for the first time in all subjects. Based on 45 million scientific articles over six decades (1945 to 2010) and 3.9 million patents (1976-2010) extracted from global databases, including the Web of Science information platform.
Over the years, their work examines the most cited papers, the way scientists cite each other, “disturbance index“. This allows you to predict whether the article changed the situation or whether a technological innovation created a breakthrough.
They distinguish two types of discoveries: on the one hand, contributions that reinforce the “status quo”, such as Nobel laureates Khon and Sham (1965), based on existing theorems to develop an original method of electronic computing. structure of atoms.
On the other hand, “disruptive” discoveries that shook theories and turned science in a different direction, like Nobel Watsons and Cricks who revolutionized biology by demonstrating the double helix structure of DNA.
Their index ranges from negative -1 point (consolidation) to +1 positive point (disruption). According to their calculations, the percentage of this indicator decreased significantly and continuously for publications between 1945 and 2010 (91.9%), affecting medicine, physical and social sciences as well. Also with 80% reduction for patents.
The vocabulary is in decline: the first decades studied are dominated by verbs that evoke creativity and discovery; in recent decades they have been replaced by words that evoke refinements or applications.
“That doesn’t mean there aren’t more advances“, nuance Michael Park, lead author. Despite its slow pace, “In recent discoveries like gravitational waves in 2015 or the messenger RNA vaccine against Covid-19, there is always a fairly consistent number of disruptive works.“, he explains to AFP.
But”a healthy scientific ecosystem is one in which disruptive and unifying discoveries intertwine. The nature of science is changing“, – emphasizes Professor Russell Funk, who led the work.
“Publish or Perish”
The growing weight of knowledge to be acquired by researchers and inventors who spend more time practicing than “pushing the boundaries of science” is in question.
This “burden of research” leads to trust”to ever narrower parts of existing knowledge“, Professor Funk regrets. The study notes, for example, a tendency to cite more than the same previous work, hence the lack of renewal.
Another factor: pressureto publish, to publish, to publish“guarantee of academic success, as stated in the phrase”publish or perish“he comments.
“The race for publication has accelerated since the early 2000s“, historian and sociologist of science Jérôme Lamy, who was not involved in the work, has a lot.
“If the concept of a +disruptive+ discovery is a little hard to define, this study puts its finger firmly on a global trend, prompting researchers to +distribute+ their papers to improve performance and find funding.“, continues the CNRS researcher in an interview with AFP.
that “atomization“job done”undermines research that takes less and less risk“, the expert analyzes.
To address this, the study urges national research agencies to prioritize quality over quantity and give scientists more time to think deeply about big topics.