Loss of New Ideas: Potentially Long-lasting Effects of the Pandemic on Scientists
36 Pages Posted: 29 Jul 2021
Date Written: July 20, 2021
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: Suggested Citation