Loss of New Ideas: Potentially Long-lasting Effects of the Pandemic on Scientists

36 Pages Posted: 29 Jul 2021

See all articles by Jian Gao

Jian Gao

Northwestern University - Center for Science of Science and Innovation; Northwestern University - Kellogg School of Management; Northwestern University - Northwestern Institute for Complex Systems (NICO)

Yian Yin

Northwestern University - Center for Science of Science and Innovation; Northwestern University - Northwestern Institute for Complex Systems (NICO); Northwestern University - Department of Industrial Engineering and Management Sciences

Kyle Myers

Harvard University - Business School (HBS)

Karim R. Lakhani

Harvard Business School - Technology and Operations Management Group; Harvard Institute for Quantitative Social Science; Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society

Dashun Wang

Northwestern University - Northwestern Institute for Complex Systems (NICO)

Date Written: July 20, 2021

Abstract

Extensive research has documented the immediate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on scientists, yet it remains unclear if and how such impacts have shifted over time. Here we compare results from two surveys of principal investigators, conducted between April 2020 and January 2021, along with analyses of large-scale publication data. We find that there has been a clear sign of recovery in some regards, as scientists’ time spent on their work has almost returned to pre-pandemic levels. However, the latest data also reveals a new dimension in which the pandemic is affecting the scientific workforce: the rate of initiating new research projects. Except for the small fraction of scientists who directly engaged in COVID-related research, most scientists started significantly fewer new research projects in 2020. This decline is most pronounced amongst the same demographic groups of scientists who reported the largest initial disruptions: female scientists and those with young children. Yet in sharp contrast to the earlier phase of the pandemic, when there were large disparities across scientific fields, this loss of new projects appears remarkably homogeneous across fields. Analyses of large-scale publication data reveal a global decline in the rate of new collaborations, especially in non-COVID-related preprints, which is consistent with the reported decline in new projects. Overall, these findings highlight that, while the end of the pandemic may appear in sight in some countries, its large and unequal impact on the scientific workforce may be enduring, which may have broad implications for inequality and the long-term vitality of science.

Keywords: new idea, research collaboration, COVID-19 pandemic, unequal impact

JEL Classification: O3

Suggested Citation

Gao, Jian and Yin, Yian and Myers, Kyle and Lakhani, Karim R. and Wang, Dashun, Loss of New Ideas: Potentially Long-lasting Effects of the Pandemic on Scientists (July 20, 2021). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3890190 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3890190

Jian Gao (Contact Author)

Northwestern University - Center for Science of Science and Innovation ( email )

2001 Sheridan Road
Evanston, IL 60208
United States

Northwestern University - Kellogg School of Management ( email )

2001 Sheridan Road
Evanston, IL 60208
United States

Northwestern University - Northwestern Institute for Complex Systems (NICO) ( email )

Chambers Hall
600 Foster Street
Evanston, IL 60208-4057
United States

Yian Yin

Northwestern University - Center for Science of Science and Innovation ( email )

2001 Sheridan Road
Evanston, IL 60208
United States

Northwestern University - Northwestern Institute for Complex Systems (NICO) ( email )

Chambers Hall
600 Foster Street
Evanston, IL 60208-4057
United States

Northwestern University - Department of Industrial Engineering and Management Sciences ( email )

2145 Sheridan Road
Room C210
Evanston, IL 60208
United States

Kyle Myers

Harvard University - Business School (HBS) ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Karim R. Lakhani

Harvard Business School - Technology and Operations Management Group ( email )

Boston, MA 02163
United States
617-495-6741 (Phone)

Harvard Institute for Quantitative Social Science ( email )

1737 Cambridge St.
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society ( email )

Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Dashun Wang

Northwestern University - Northwestern Institute for Complex Systems (NICO) ( email )

Chambers Hall
600 Foster Street
Evanston, IL 60208-4057
United States

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