Correlated Impact Dynamics in Science

Jiazhen Liu, Tamang Kunal, Dashun Wang, Chaoming Song

Science progresses by building upon previous discoveries. It is commonly believed that the impact of scientific papers, as measured by citations, is positively correlated with the impact of past discoveries built upon. However, analyzing over 30 million papers and nearly a billion citations across multiple disciplines, we find that there is a long-term positive citation correlation, but a negative short-term correlation. We demonstrate that the key to resolving this paradox lies in a new concept, called “capacity”, which captures the amount of originality remaining for a paper. We find there is an intimate link between capacity and impact dynamics that appears universal across the diverse fields we studied. The uncovered capacity measure not only explains the correlated impact dynamics across the sciences but also improves our understanding and predictions of high-impact discoveries.

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