Azoulay on Star Scientists

14 December 2015 at 12:14 pm 2 comments

| Peter Klein |

dd5a855b9c3941b0336b647acdb35582Pierre Azoulay has written a number of important and interesting papers on the economics and sociology of science: How does teamwork effect science? What are the relationships among scientists and students, collaborators, and rivals? A new paper with Christian Fons-Rosen, Joshua S. Graff Zivin looks at the unexpected death of a “star” scientist to identify the (exogenous) impact of the star’s research on her field. The main result — that stars matter — is perhaps not surprising, but the magnitude of the effect is remarkable.

Consistent with previous research, the flow of articles by collaborators into affected fields decreases precipitously after the death of a star scientist (relative to control fields). In contrast, we find that the flow of articles by non-collaborators increases by 8% on average. These additional contributions are disproportionately likely to be highly cited. They are also more likely to be authored by scientists who were not previously active in the deceased superstar’s field. Overall, these results suggest that outsiders are reluctant to challenge leadership within a field when the star is alive and that a number of barriers may constrain entry even after she is gone.

Read the whole thing, as well as related work by Toby StuartJoshua Graff Zivin, and others.

Update: Here is a non-technical summary on Vox.com.

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Institutions, Methods/Methodology/Theory of Science.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Howard Aldrich  |  14 December 2015 at 12:56 pm

    I haven’t read the original yet, but from your posting, Peter, I’d say this paper has major implications for how review committees read the publication record of a junior collaborator who works with a ‘star’ scientist. And this is not good news for the junior person.

  • 2. Warren Miller  |  14 December 2015 at 1:33 pm

    Like Howard, I haven’t read the paper yet. However, I would like to call attention to a bona fide ‘superstar’ scientist: Robert Langer of M.I.T. Start with this: He has over 1,100 patents and has authored or co-authored nearly 1,500 papers. He’s also launched more than 30 start-ups based on his inventions.

    A video of a wonderful lecture he gave at the University of Utah in the spring of 2013 is here; one comment: “Over a couple-of-year period, I found over 200 different methods of getting this to not work.” A flattering piece in the NY Times is here. A podcast of a 2011 interview with him is here.

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