It’s official: Everywhere in science there’s a mysterious lack of ground-breaking papers

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By Jo Nova  (and UPDATED)

Across all branches of science, new ideas that reset the paradigms have quietly vanished

The spark never started in the star-ideas that should have shone, and we find ourselves suddenly under a dark sky, looking up at a galaxy of burnt gravy, thinking something is missing. As dominant paradigms became entrenched in every field of science, the great new replacement ideas starved.

Nature might as well have labeled this “A graph of Original Thought at University”

It’s like some sole giant entity infected every area of science and crushed original thinkers.

‘Disruptive’ science has declined — and no one knows why

Disruptive science sounds like something impossible to measure, but the researchers found way to test for the arrival of new papers that replace past paradigms. Genius discoveries may still have happened, but no one picked them up.

The authors reasoned that if a study was highly disruptive, subsequent research would be less likely to cite the study’s references, and instead would cite the study itself. Using the citation data from 45 million manuscripts and 3.9 million patents, the researchers calculated a measure of disruptiveness, called the CD index, in which values ranged from –1 for the least disruptive work to 1 for the most disruptive.

And it’s a wipe-out: The CD Index fell by 90% since World War II.  A similar fall occurred in patents, with an 80% decline from 1980 to 2010. The language in the papers also The verbs scientists used changed too — with older papers saying they would produce or determine things, while newer papers just improve and enhance

It’s happening in every field of science at the same time — almost like a systematic failure

Daniel Lawler and Juliette Collen explain that this is not a case of scientists discovering everything there is to know in one area:

One theory for the decline is that all the “low-hanging fruit” of science has already been plucked. If that were the case, disruptiveness in various scientific fields would have fallen at different speeds, Park said. But instead “the declines are pretty consistent in their speeds and timing across all major fields,” Park said, indicating that the low-hanging fruit theory is not likely to be the culprit.

It’s as if there is something wrong with the incentives across the board?

Looks like the rise of Government funded GroupThink?

Since World War II governments took over the role of funding science from philanthropists. Once upon a time one guy funded another one and great things happened. Now Government funded committees that are spending other people’s money, reject the risky genius and fund the middle-of-the-road instead. New ideas don’t stand a chance against monopoly science.

As Robert Zimmerman says:

…when you increasingly have big government money involved in research, following World War II, it becomes more and more difficult to buck the popular trends. Tie that to the growing blacklist culture that now destroys the career of any scientist who dares to say something even slightly different, and no one should be surprised originality is declining in scientific research. The culture will no longer tolerate it. You will tow the line, or you will be gone. Scientists are thus towing the line.

Naturally, Nature, a product made for government funded science, doesn’t know why socialist science is failing:

‘Disruptive’ science has declined — and no one knows why


The proportion of publications that send a field in a new direction has plummeted over the past half-century.

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 literature1.

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 average CD index declined by more than 90% between 1945 and 2010 for research manuscripts (see ‘Disruptive science dwindles’), and by more than 78% from 1980 to 2010 for patents. Disruptiveness declined in all of the analysed research fields and patent types, even when factoring in potential differences in factors such as citation practices.

Why the slide?

It is important to understand the reasons for the drastic changes, Walsh says. The trend might stem in part from changes in the scientific enterprise. For example, there are now many more researchers than in the 1940s, which has created a more competitive environment and raised the stakes to publish research and seek patents. That, in turn, has changed the incentives for how researchers go about their work. Large research teams, for example, have become more common, and Wang and his colleagues have found3 that big teams are more likely to produce incremental than disruptive science.

So we use group-science, funded by committees, and approved by anonymous pals and get the Science Superhighway to nowhere.

The more the government funds science, the worse it will get.

UPDATE _______________________________

My response to a commenter who effectively said the geniuses are being diluted by the midwits:

It’s far worse than just dilution. Academia is actively driving out the mavericks, the geniuses, and awarding prizes and promotions to the midwits.

The number-guys who dream in fractals and sine curves aren’t the best networkers, or possibly the most appreciated lecturers either. The aspergic personalities are hampered with a compulsion to speak the truth, and when its politically correct it is the perfect excuse for the networking-talker under them to report them for offending some minority group and get them sacked. The end result is a promotion for the politically correct liar.

There is no place any more for the true genius at university.

Those who rock the boat and criticize or expose past paradigms are trouble-makers. Peer review and committee approval makes it easy to neutralize their careers. Anon reviewers can nix a paper that makes the reviewers expertise look stupid, or threatens their own gravy train.

Brilliant people now either gravitate to politically neutral irrelevant topics or they leave university, work for Wall St, or they live off donations.

This paper about disruptions has come up with a clever new way to show how crippled science is. By definition, even if the genius discoveries are somehow made, they are not being cited in papers or patents. Doesn’t that show a very real problem?

If a tree falls in a forest and nobody hears…


Kozlov, Max (2023) ‘Disruptive’ science has declined — and no one knows whyNature613, 225 (2023) doi: