Does Science Advance One Funeral at a Time?

Pierre Azoulay, Christian Fons-Rosen, Joshua S. Graff Zivin

NBER Working Paper No. 21788
Issued in December 2015, Revised in October 2016
NBER Program(s):Productivity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship

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 re- source barriers all impede entry, with outsiders only entering subfields that offer a less hostile landscape for the support and acceptance of “foreign” ideas.

download in pdf format
   (1056 K)

email paper

A non-technical summary of this paper is available in the March 2016 NBER digest.  You can sign up to receive the NBER Digest by email.

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w21788

Users who downloaded this paper also downloaded* these:
Wang, Veugelers, and Stephan w22180 Bias against Novelty in Science: A Cautionary Tale for Users of Bibliometric Indicators
Azoulay, Ganguli, and Graff Zivin w21995 The Mobility of Elite Life Scientists: Professional and Personal Determinants
Lerner, Schoar, Sokolinski, and Wilson w21808 The Globalization of Angel Investments: Evidence across Countries
Herrnstadt and Muehlegger w21787 Air Pollution and Criminal Activity: Evidence from Chicago Microdata
Guiso, Pistaferri, and Schivardi w21775 Learning Entrepreneurship From Other Entrepreneurs?
NBER Videos

National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email:

Contact Us