Untangling the network effects of productivity and prominence among scientists

Weihua Li, Sam Zhang, Zhiming Zheng, Skyler J. Cranmer & Aaron Clauset
Nature Communications volume 13, Article number: 4907 (2022)

While inequalities in science are common, most efforts to understand them treat scientists as isolated individuals, ignoring the network effects of collaboration. Here, we develop models that untangle the network effects of productivity defined as paper counts, and prominence referring to high-impact publications, of individual scientists from their collaboration networks. We find that gendered differences in the productivity and prominence of mid-career researchers can be largely explained by differences in their coauthorship networks. Hence, collaboration networks act as a form of social capital, and we find evidence of their transferability from senior to junior collaborators, with benefits that decay as researchers age. Collaboration network effects can also explain a large proportion of the productivity and prominence advantages held by researchers at prestigious institutions. These results highlight a substantial role of social networks in driving inequalities in science, and suggest that collaboration networks represent an important form of unequally distributed social capital that shapes who makes what scientific discoveries.

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