Prizes Signal Scientific Revolutions

by   Ching Jin, et al.

Scientific revolutions affect funding, investments, and technological advances, yet predicting their onset and projected size and impact remains a puzzle. We investigated a possible signal predicting a topic's revolutionary growth - its association with a scientific prize. Our analysis used original data on nearly all recognized prizes associated with 11,539 scientific topics awarded between 1960 and 2017 to examine the link between prizes and a topic's unexpected growth in productivity, impact, and talent. Using difference-in-differences regressions and counterfactuals of matched prizewinning and non-prizewinning topics, we found that in the year following the receipt of a prize, a topic experiences an onset of extraordinary growth in impact and talent that continues into the future. At between five to 10 years after the prize year, prizewinning topics are 38 impactful in citations, retain 53 entrants and 46 While prizewinning topics grow unexpectedly fast in talent and impact, funding does not drive growth; rather, growth is positively associated with the recency of work on the topic, discipline-specific rather than general awards, and prize money. These findings advance understanding of scientific revolutions and identify variations in prize characteristics that predict the timing and size of a topic's revolutionary growth. We discuss the implications of these findings on how funding agencies and universities make investments and scientists commit time and resources to one topic versus another, as well as on the quality of research.


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