Don’t follow the leader: Independent thinkers create scientific innovation

Sean Kelty, Raiyan Abdul Baten, Adiba Mahbub Proma, Ehsan Hoque, Johan Bollen, Gourab Ghoshal
Academic success is distributed unequally; a few top scientists receive the bulk of attention, citations, and resources. However, do these “superstars” foster leadership in scientific innovation? We introduce three information-theoretic measures that quantify novelty, innovation, and impact from scholarly citation networks, and compare the scholarly output of scientists who are either not connected or strongly connected to superstar scientists. We find that while connected scientists do indeed publish more, garner more citations, and produce more diverse content, this comes at a cost of lower innovation and higher redundancy of ideas. Further, once one removes papers co-authored with superstars, the academic output of these connected scientists diminishes. In contrast, authors that produce innovative content without the benefit of collaborations with scientific superstars produce papers that connect a greater diversity of concepts, publish more, and have comparable citation rates, once one controls for transferred prestige of superstars. On balance, our results indicate that academia pays a price by focusing attention and resources on superstars.

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