Does Science Advance One Funeral at a Time?

71 Pages Posted: 16 Dec 2015

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

University of California, Merced

Joshua Graff Zivin

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

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: December 2015

Abstract

We study the extent to which eminent scientists shape the vitality of their fields by examining entry rates into the fields of 452 academic life scientists who pass away while at the peak of their scientific abilities. Key to our analyses is a novel way to delineate boundaries around scientific fields by appealing solely to intellectual linkages between scientists and their publications, rather than collaboration or co-citation patterns. 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. 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.

Keywords: cumulative knowledge production, economics of science, invisible college, scientific fields, superstars

JEL Classification: O3, O31, O43

Suggested Citation

Azoulay, Pierre and Fons-Rosen, Christian and Graff Zivin, Joshua, Does Science Advance One Funeral at a Time? (December 2015). CEPR Discussion Paper No. DP10980, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2704474

Pierre Azoulay (Contact Author)

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

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Christian Fons-Rosen

University of California, Merced ( 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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United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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