Does Science Advance One Funeral at a Time?

110 Pages Posted: 14 Dec 2015 Last revised: 4 Jan 2016

See all articles by Pierre Azoulay

Pierre Azoulay

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Christian Fons-Rosen

Universitat Pompeu Fabra

Joshua Graff Zivin

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) - Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies (IRPS); National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Date Written: December 2015

Abstract

We study the extent to which eminent scientists shape the vitality of their areas of scientific inquiry by examining entry rates into the subfields of 452 academic life scientists who pass away prematurely. Consistent with previous research, the flow of articles by collaborators into affected fields decreases precipitously after the death of a star scientist. In contrast, we find that the flow of articles by non-collaborators increases by 8.6% 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. Intellectual, social, and resource barriers all impede entry, with outsiders only entering subfields that offer a less hostile landscape for the support and acceptance of “foreign” ideas. Overall, our results suggest that once in control of the commanding heights of their fields, star scientists tend to hold on to their exalted position a bit too long.

Suggested Citation

Azoulay, Pierre and Fons-Rosen, Christian and Graff Zivin, Joshua, Does Science Advance One Funeral at a Time? (December 2015). NBER Working Paper No. w21788, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2703193

Pierre Azoulay (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management ( email )

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Christian Fons-Rosen

Universitat Pompeu Fabra ( email )

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Joshua Graff Zivin

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) - Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies (IRPS) ( email )

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La Jolla, CA 92093-0519
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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United States

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