Stagnation in science

I stumbled on this paper from a linked blog post (and is worth going through). I have not annotated it but summarized the key points.

New ideas no longer fuel economic growth the way they once did. A popular explanation for stagnation is that good ideas are harder to find, rendering slowdown inevitable. We present a simple model of the lifecycle of scientific ideas that points to changes in scientist incentives as the cause of scientific stagnation. Over the last five decades, citations have become the dominant way to evaluate scientific contributions and scientists. This emphasis on citations in the measurement of scientific productivity shifted scientist rewards and behavior on the margin toward incremental science and away from exploratory projects that are more likely to fail, but which are the fuel for future breakthroughsAs attention given to new ideas decreased, science stagnated. We also explore ways to broaden how scientific productivity is measured and rewarded, involving both academic search engines such as Google Scholar measuring which contributions explore newer ideas and university administrators and funding agencies utilizing these new metrics in research evaluationWe demonstrate empirically that measures of novelty are correlated with but distinct from measures of scientific impact, which suggests that if also novelty metrics were utilized in scientist evaluation, scientists might pursue more innovative, riskier, projects.

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An influential essay written by engineer and science administrator Vannevar Bush in 1945 put forward a grand vision for post-war science. A central focus of this vision was the need to facilitate exploration in science:

Scientific progress on a broad front results from the free play of free intellects, working on subjects of their own choice, in the manner dictated by their curiosity for exploration of the unknown.”30

Other approaches to measuring novelty include Jones et al (2008), Azoulay et al (2011), Kelly et al (2018), Iaria et al (2018), Lee et al (2015), Wang et al (2016), Jones and Weinberg (2010), Youn et al (2015), Uzzi et al (2013) and Boudreau et al (2016). For the Doc2Vec algorithm, see Le and Mikolov (2014). Giorcelli et al (2018) utilize a related Word2Vec algorithm to study the flow of new ideas from science to culture. Our own work on measuring new ideas and novelty include Bhattacharya and Packalen (2011), Packalen and Bhattacharya (20122015ab, 2017, 2018, 2019) and Packalen (2018). 30 Bush (1945a).

The impetus for this emphasis was that academic freedom had in many ways been lost during the war, as scientific endeavors were redirected to support the needs of the militaryThis emphasis on scientific play stands in stark contrast with a common refrain about modern science according to which scientists today have gone too far in terms of following their own whims in search of the unknown at the expense of work that places more emphasis on potential practical societal benefits.