A recent study found that the amount of groundbreaking scientific research has decreased in recent years.
The study, published in the journal Nature, analysed millions of scientific papers and patents from the last century and discovered that papers and patents from the 2000s were more likely to improve on previous research rather than make new breakthroughs.
The researchers used a measure called the “CD index” to determine how much a research paper or patent departs from previous literature and makes previous work obsolete.
The average CD index for papers decreased by over 90% from 1945 to 2010, and for patents, it decreased by over 78% from 1980 to 2010.
This trend was found in all fields of research.
But why is this happening?
The study suggests that it may be due to changes in the scientific field.
For example, large research teams have become more common, and these teams tend to produce more incremental science.
Additionally, there may be more pressure to produce results that are immediately useful and can make money, so researchers focus more on incremental progress instead of risky and disruptive research.
Another reason is that research has become more specialised, with scientists focusing on specific areas of study.
This can make it harder to come up with truly disruptive ideas.
And, with the pressure to publish papers and patents, researchers may be less willing to take on risky or unconventional projects.
It’s important to remember that the decline in disruptive research is not always a bad thing.
It can mean that the field is becoming more mature and building on a strong foundation of knowledge.
It can also lead to more replication and reproduction of existing work, which is important for validating findings.
Overall, the study highlights the importance of finding a balance between incremental and disruptive research.
Both are necessary for scientific progress.
We should not be discouraged from pursuing groundbreaking research but rather be aware of current trends and find new ways to foster innovation.
Source: Max Kozlov, 2023, ‘Disruptive’ science has declined – and no one knows why, Nature, January