Does Science Advance One Funeral at a Time?
We study the extent to which eminent scientists shape the vitality of their areas of scientific inquiry by examining entry rates into the subfields of 452 academic life scientists who pass away prematurely. Consistent with previous research, the flow of articles by collaborators into affected fields decreases precipitously after the death of a star scientist. In contrast, we find that the flow of articles by non-collaborators increases by 8.6% 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. Intellectual, social, and resource barriers all impede entry, with outsiders only entering subfields that offer a less hostile landscape for the support and acceptance of “foreign” ideas. Overall, our results suggest that once in control of the commanding heights of their fields, star scientists tend to hold on to their exalted position a bit too long.
Address all correspondence to firstname.lastname@example.org. Azoulay and Graff Zivin acknowledge the financial support of the National Science Foundation through its SciSIP Program (Award SBE-1460344). Christian Fons-Rosen acknowledges financial support from the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness through a grant (ECO-2014-55555-P) and through the Severo Ochoa Programme for Centres of Excellence in R&D (SEV-2015-0563). Mikka Rokkanen provided additional research assistance. The project would not have been possible without Andrew Stellman's extraordinary programming skills (www.stellman-greene.com). We thank Heidi Williams, Xavier Jaravel, Danielle Li, Sameer Srivastava, Scott Stern, Bruce Weinberg, and seminar audiences at the NBER, UC Berkeley, National University of Singapore, and Stanford University for useful discussions. The usual disclaimer applies. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Pierre Azoulay & Christian Fons-Rosen & Joshua S. Graff Zivin, 2019. "Does Science Advance One Funeral at a Time?," American Economic Review, vol 109(8), pages 2889-2920. citation courtesy of