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Less disruptive science

The number of papers published on innovative discoveries and technology patents considered disruptive is falling. Compared with scientific articles from the mid-twentieth century, papers published in the 2000s were more likely to offer incremental contributions than discoveries capable of changing the course of science. The same difference was observed between patents filed in 1976 and 2010. The conclusions come from a survey carried out by researchers from the USA. Led by Russell Funk, a sociologist from the University of Minnesota, the team developed a quantitative metric called the CD index, the values of which range from -1 for the least disruptive articles to +1 for the most innovative. The authors used this index to analyze 45 million articles and 3.9 million patents. They found that the average CD index of scientific papers fell by more than 90% between 1945 and 2010, while for patents it fell by 78% between 1980 and 2020 (Nature, January 4). They also analyzed the most common verbs used in the documents. In the 1950s, there were more verbs associated with the idea of creation or discovery, such as “produce” or “determine,” while in the 2000s there were more words like “improve” or “enhance”, linked to the description of incremental progress.

Alexandre Affonso / Revista Pesquisa FAPESP Republish