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 the mid-twentieth century, research done in the 2000s was much more likely to incrementally push science forward than to veer off in a new direction and render previous work obsolete. Analysis of patents from 1976 to 2010 showed the same trend.
So has (A) everything already discovered by low hanging fruits A? Are scientists nor more taking any risk (B)? Or is the “disruptive” science now hidden in the meaningless research (C)? OR did only change citation practices (D)? The answer is in the original paper
Specifically, despite large increases in scientific productivity, the number of papers and patents with CD5 values in the far right tail of the distribution remains nearly constant over time. This ‘conservation’ of the absolute number of highly disruptive papers and patents holds despite considerable churn in the underlying fields responsible for producing those works… These results suggest that the persistence of major breakthroughs—for example, measurement of gravity waves and COVID-19 vaccines—is not inconsistent with slowing innovative activity. In short, declining aggregate disruptiveness does not preclude individual highly disruptive works.
In my own words: Progress is found in the top percentiles just as many decades before. But most research publications are a waste of money and even harmful for cluttering up the research field.
There seem to be also some critical comments and of course some methodological issues need to be clarified for any interpretation (eg exclusion of reviews, validity of the 5 year interval, …). In any case, the authors promised to give me the CD5 dataset which will be nice to look up my own work.