Anyone interested in advancing collaborative science should read the article, Atypical Combinations and Scientific Impact, in the Oct. 25 issue of Science magazine. Dr. Brian Uzzi, distinguished professor at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management and colleagues report on their analysis of 17.9 million research papers. They set out to understand how novelty and conventionality in science operate to influence impact. Obviously, they did not read 17.9 million papers – they were using data-mining techniques for analysis — but their findings are interesting and instructive. The authors found that “the highest impact science is primarily grounded in exceptionally conventional combinations of prior work yet simultaneously features an intrusion of unusual combinations” (p. 468). They also found that collaborative teams (three or more authors) were more likely to produce high-impact work than single authors.
When I read the paper, I thought about its implications for the ways we educate students. My sense is that students learn a lot more about discipline-specific information and methods (which often are cross-cutting) than about how scientific advances and impact are achieved. This article should be must reading for doctoral students in any field.
Best wishes for happy holidays. We’ll be in Chapel Hill with family. I feel fortunate not having to get on another plane for a month. Wherever you’ll be, we hope your holiday is a happy one. Barbara