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'Disruptive' Science Has Declined – And No One Knows Why


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Slowing rates of disruption may reflect a fundamental shift in the nature of science and technology.

Credit: Getty Images

The number of science and technology research papers published has skyrocketed over the past few decades — but the "disruptiveness" of those papers has dropped, according to an analysis of how radically papers depart from the previous literature.

Data from millions of manuscripts show that, compared with mid-twentieth-century research, that done in the 2000s was much more likely to push science forward incrementally than to veer off in a new direction and render previous work obsolete. Analysis of patents from 1976 to 2010 showed the same trend.

"The data suggest something is changing," says Russell Funk, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota and co-author of the published analysis. "You don't have quite the same intensity of breakthrough discoveries you once had."

Although the proportion of disruptive research dropped significantly between 1945 and 2010, the number of highly disruptive studies has remained about the same.

From Nature
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