Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Publish or perish: scientific knowledge expands, but disruptive innovation stagnates

Scientific innovation is stalling. An analysis of millions of academic publications and technical patents from the last 60 years predicts a gradual decrease in disruption, despite the exponential increase in scientific knowledge during the 20th century compared to the rest of recorded history. Perverse incentives generated by the research field may be to blame: the need to constantly publish in order to be relevant in the academic world or the vast dimension of knowledge, which makes it practically impossible to follow what is happening beyond one study niche. gives. Scientist. That’s the conclusion of a bibliographic review published today by the scientific journal nature, After reviewing 45 million scientific articles and nearly 4 million patents.

Disruptive innovation in science is one that breaks with the way of thinking, knowledge or technology up to that point in a way that opens up new areas of research.

Russell Funk, University of Minnesota

Russell Funk and Michael Park, researchers at the University of Minnesota, point to a clear decline in disruptive innovation in this study that transforms in which state For the time being, in academic fields such as engineering and physics, but also in the registration of patents for new technologies or medicines. The Funk and Park Review develops its own index where it ranks the millions of scientific investigations and patents registered between 1945 and 2010, and classifies them on a scale between disruptive – eg DNA by Francis Crick, James Watson The discovery of the double helix, and Rosalind Franklin—or who established and expanded prior scientific knowledge. Disruptive innovation in science is “something that breaks with the way of thinking or doing until then and results in scientific knowledge or technology that opens up new areas of research”, as defined by Funk, the study’s principal investigator. has been done.

In the assessment data of the works, there is a reduction of more than 90% in innovation in the social or physical sciences, and 80% in the registration of technology, such as microprocessors or telecommunications, or 91.5% in the case of medicines. in medicine. In addition to citations from other works, the researchers evaluate the language used in studies spanning more than half a century and correlate this with Nobel-awarded research, which accounts for approximately 635 laureates.

Funk recognizes the limitations of his model and understands that all of these analyzes are “approximate ways of accessing knowledge” and are made to go beyond simple references in works. “In the end you don’t know why something is cited. We assume that references to previous scientific papers represent the building blocks of knowledge, but they can mean anything, such as whether the authors believe that they believe he would be a favorable mention to his supervisor or editors”, reflects the author.

The University of Minnesota researchers believe that the results of their review do not mean that “we are facing the end of knowledge”, they explain in their conclusion, but that stagnation in innovation is a consequence of the current scientific production model. may result. , For Funk, this is due to the fact that “one way in which institutions evaluate the academic quality of researchers is, to a large extent, based on their productivity in publishing articles, and that is why there is so much emphasis on the production of scientific things.” Let’s focus.” , because it is the measure of success.” In closing their research, the authors criticize that this model may be good for the researcher, but bad for knowledge as a whole.

publish destroy

What is colloquially known as “publish or perish” is one of the ills to be derived from the academic system. A model that fosters disadvantageous dynamics because it forces researchers to continually publish studies in order to maintain their academic relevance, qualify for funding, or even keep their jobs. Funk points to this problem as one of the culprits of research continuity, as it does not allow experimentation or penetration into other areas of knowledge.

An example of this situation occurs in works that refer to very old studies, meaning that the author has not updated his readings, or when academics themselves have cited excessively. The lead authors point out that “it is common for a researcher to cite his own work not because he wants to break his line of research, but it prevents disruption.”

We know that innovation comes from trying new things and taking ideas from different fields. If you only have time to publish, it doesn’t allow you to think or read from other fields.

Michael Parks, University of Minnesota

The depth of knowledge, the large number of hours of expertise required to master a scientific field, also becomes a problem. In the study, they point out that scientists rely on fewer and fewer different types of sources and indicate that their window of knowledge has narrowed, given that the complexity of science generates silos that separate from each other. “We know that innovation comes from trying new things and taking ideas from different fields,” Park explains. “If you only have time to publish, that doesn’t leave you time to think about or read about other areas,” he says. For the study’s co-investigator, a model that encourages innovation should promote it, citing work from other diverse fields: “Previous statistical studies show that disruption is related to a broad knowledge, diverse mix of disciplines. “

Far from trying to sound pessimistic or sinister, the researchers say the disruption has been “persistent” over the decades, so it’s not a fault of study quality. “Not that everything is bad,” says Funk, “but there must be a better balance between innovation and established knowledge, which is necessary to rethink scientific-technological production strategies in the future.” “Ultimately, we are interested in ideas and scientific knowledge, we should not worry about citations,” the authors say.

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