The decline of ‘disruptive’ science

Read the full story at Inside Higher Ed.

Isaac Newton wrote to fellow scientist Robert Hooke in a 1675, saying, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” Centuries later, it remains generally understood that innovation builds on past science. So in this era of unprecedented research volume, breakthroughs should be increasingly common, right? Wrong, according to a new study finding that “disruptive” science is on the decline.

This trend downward “represents a substantive shift in science and technology, one that reinforces concerns about slowing innovative activity,” says the analysis, published this month in Nature.

Finding that the decline likely isn’t driven by changes in the quality of published science, citation practices or field-specific factors, the authors attribute this shift “in part to scientists’ and inventors’ reliance on a narrower set of existing knowledge.”

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