Measuring Risk in Science

33 Pages Posted: 31 May 2023

See all articles by Deyun Yin

Deyun Yin

Harbin Institute of Technology, Shenzhen

Zhao Wu

Harbin Institute of Technology, Shenzhen

Sotaro Shibayama

University of Tokyo; CIRCLE Lund University

Date Written: May 29, 2023


Risk plays a fundamental role in scientific discoveries, and thus it is critical that the level of risk can be systematically quantified. We propose a novel approach to measuring risk entailed in a particular mode of discovery process – knowledge recombination. The recombination of extant knowledge serves as an important route to generate new knowledge, but attempts of recombination often fail. Drawing on machine learning and natural language processing techniques, our approach converts knowledge elements in the text format into high-dimensional vector expressions and computes the probability of failing to combine a pair of knowledge elements. Testing the calculated risk indicator on survey data, we confirm that our indicator is correlated with self-assessed risk. Further, as risk and novelty have been confounded in the literature, we examine and suggest the divergence of the bibliometric novelty and risk indicators. Finally, we demonstrate that our risk indicator is negatively associated with future citation impact, suggesting that risk-taking itself may not necessarily pay off. Our approach can assist decision making of scientists and relevant parties such as policymakers, funding bodies, and R&D managers.

Keywords: Risk; Uncertainty; Novelty; Recombination; Science; Word embedding; Support Vector Machine

Suggested Citation

Yin, Deyun and Wu, Zhao and Shibayama, Sotaro, Measuring Risk in Science (May 29, 2023). Available at SSRN: or

Deyun Yin

Harbin Institute of Technology, Shenzhen ( email )

University Town
Nand District
Shenzhen, Guangdong 518055

Zhao Wu

Harbin Institute of Technology, Shenzhen

Sotaro Shibayama (Contact Author)

University of Tokyo ( email )

Hongo 7-3-1
Tokyo, Tokyo 113-8656


CIRCLE Lund University ( email )

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