December 6, 2023

Profitable a Nobel Prize is usually a life-changing occasion. The winners are thrust onto a world stage, and for a lot of scientists the popularity represents the head of their careers.

However what’s the impact of profitable such a high-profile prize on science?

John Ioannidis, an epidemiologist at Stanford College, desires to search out out. Awards just like the Nobel Prize are “a serious reputational software,” he mentioned, however he questions “whether or not they actually assist scientists turn out to be extra productive and extra impactful.”

In August, a group of researchers led by Dr. Ioannidis printed a study within the journal Royal Society Open Science that tried to quantify whether or not main awards push science ahead. Utilizing publication and quotation patterns for scientists who received a Nobel Prize or a MacArthur Fellowship — the so-called genius grant — the group analyzed how post-award productiveness is influenced by age and profession stage. General, it discovered that laureates of both prize had comparable or decreased affect of their subject.

“These awards don’t appear to boost the productiveness of the scientists,” Dr. Ioannidis mentioned. “If something, it appears to have the other impact.”

The researchers’ examine provides to a physique of labor that goals to demystify the methods by which awards form how science is finished, although students have completely different opinions on what elements matter probably the most.

Since 1901, the Nobel Foundation has awarded prizes for groundbreaking achievements in physics, drugs and chemistry (along with prizes for peace, literature and, since 1969, financial analysis). The MacArthur Fellowship was based in 1981, and in contrast to the Nobel Prizes, is granted as an funding into a person’s potential.

Dr. Ioannidis’s group studied winners of each prizes to account for a way age impacts scientific productiveness. On common, Nobel Prize winners usually tend to be older and additional alongside of their careers in contrast with MacArthur fellows.

For the examine, the group chosen a pattern of 72 Nobel laureates and 119 MacArthur fellows from this century and in contrast publication and quotation counts of every awardee three years earlier than they obtained the prize with after the popularity. Publications gave perception into how a lot new work a scholar was producing, whereas citations quantified the affect that work had within the subject, Dr. Ioannidis mentioned.

His group discovered that Nobel winners printed about the identical variety of papers after receiving the award, however that post-award work had far fewer citations than pre-award work. MacArthur fellows, then again, printed barely extra, however their citations remained about the identical. The speed of citations per paper for each Nobel laureates and MacArthur fellows decreased after profitable.

When analyzing direct traits in age, the group discovered that laureates of both award who had been 42 or older had declining citations and publication counts after their win. Recipients who had been 41 or youthful printed extra and had been cited extra, which the researchers mentioned prompt that age performed a job within the scientific productiveness of awardees.

However Harriet Zuckerman, a sociologist at Columbia College who has spent her profession tracking the lives and work of Nobel laureates, mentioned that it was troublesome to distill productiveness into such easy metrics. The problem will increase when generalizing throughout completely different fields of science, which have various requirements for publishing or citing work. In some fields, for instance, senior scientists could not embrace themselves as authors to provide early-career scientists an opportunity to shine.

Although Dr. Zuckerman doesn’t essentially equate this to productiveness, she has additionally studied how the publication and citation patterns of Nobel winners fluctuated with age, profession stage and different elements. She discovered that have with fame precipitated the largest shift — one thing that Nobel winners take care of in a approach by which MacArthur fellows could not.

“They’re handled by others, each inside their fields and outdoors science, usually as celebrities, as individuals whose opinions rely on every thing,” she mentioned. “It’s very distracting.”

Andrea Ghez, a College of California, Los Angeles, astrophysicist, agreed that the distinction between changing into a MacArthur fellow, which she did in 2008 at 43, and a Nobel physics laureate, which she did in 2020 at 55, is stark. “There’s an enormous duty that comes with a Nobel when it comes to actually being recognized as a frontrunner on the planet,” she mentioned. For Dr. Ghez, that features being a constructive illustration for girls and defending the significance of science — two impacts that aren’t recorded in papers or citations.

Another excuse Nobel laureates may even see a drop in productiveness is that they really feel they’ve peaked in a single analysis space and wish to attempt one thing new. “It’s known as pivot penalty,” mentioned Dashun Wang, a researcher at Northwestern College who analyzes scientific inquiry and who was not concerned within the examine.

Dr. Wang discovered that this led to a short lived dip in publication price, however that this bounces again after about three years. He has argued for seeing this as a constructive.

“It means these individuals wish to proceed to push the frontier,” he added.

With regards to Nobel Prizes particularly, the award provides you the boldness and clout to pursue greater, extra bold concepts, in response to Dr. Ghez. “Transformative work is well-known for not being effectively measured by citations,” she mentioned.

Dr. Ioannidis acknowledges the restrictions of boiling down productiveness to papers and citations, as a result of they inform just one a part of the story. “There are lots of different issues that matter within the footprint of science and society,” he mentioned.

However till there may be information to quantify these advantages, Dr. Ioannidis nonetheless finds worth in making an attempt to evaluate the results of the awards — and in urging the neighborhood to suppose deeply about how one can obtain extra rigorous, impactful work. “Science is the perfect factor that may occur to people,” Dr. Ioannidis mentioned. However how one can finest exploit its advantages, he added, is a scientific query in itself.

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