Winning 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 top of their careers.
But what’s the impact of successful such a high-profile prize on science?
John Ioannidis, an epidemiologist at Stanford University, desires to seek out out. Awards just like the Nobel Prize are “a major reputational tool,” he stated, however he questions “whether they really help scientists become more productive and more impactful.”
In August, a staff of researchers led by Dr. Ioannidis printed a examine within the journal Royal Society Open Science that tried to quantify whether or not main awards push science ahead. Using publication and quotation patterns for scientists who received a Nobel Prize or a MacArthur Fellowship — the so-called genius grant — the staff analyzed how post-award productiveness is influenced by age and profession stage. Overall, it discovered that laureates of both prize had comparable or decreased affect of their area.
“These awards do not seem to enhance the productivity of the scientists,” Dr. Ioannidis stated. “If anything, it seems to have the opposite effect.”
The researchers’ examine provides to a physique of labor that goals to demystify the methods during 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, medication 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 staff studied winners of each prizes to account for the 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 staff 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 acquired 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 area, Dr. Ioannidis stated.
His staff 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, alternatively, printed barely extra, however their citations remained about the identical. The charge of citations per paper for each Nobel laureates and MacArthur fellows decreased after successful.
When analyzing direct developments in age, the staff discovered that laureates of both award who have been 42 or older had declining citations and publication counts after their win. Recipients who have been 41 or youthful printed extra and have been cited extra, which the researchers stated urged that age performed a job within the scientific productiveness of awardees.
But Harriet Zuckerman, a sociologist at Columbia University who has spent her profession monitoring the lives and work of Nobel laureates, stated that it was troublesome to distill productiveness into such easy metrics. The issue 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 might not embrace themselves as authors to present early-career scientists an opportunity to shine.
Though Dr. Zuckerman doesn’t essentially equate this to productiveness, she has additionally studied how the publication and quotation patterns of Nobel winners fluctuated with age, profession stage and different elements. She discovered that have with fame brought on the most important shift — one thing that Nobel winners cope with in a method during which MacArthur fellows might not.
“They are treated by others, both within their fields and outside science, often as celebrities, as people whose opinions count on everything,” she stated. “It’s very distracting.”
Andrea Ghez, a University 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 a huge responsibility that comes with a Nobel in terms of really being identified as a leader in the world,” she stated. For Dr. Ghez, that features being a constructive illustration for ladies and defending the significance of science — two impacts that aren’t recorded in papers or citations.
Another cause 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 strive one thing new. “It’s called pivot penalty,” stated Dashun Wang, a researcher at Northwestern University who analyzes scientific inquiry and who was not concerned within the examine.
Dr. Wang discovered that this led to a brief dip in publication charge, however that this bounces again after about three years. He has argued for seeing this as a constructive.
“It means these people want to continue to push the frontier,” he added.
When it involves Nobel Prizes particularly, the award offers you the arrogance and clout to pursue larger, extra bold concepts, in line with Dr. Ghez. “Transformative work is well known for not being well measured by citations,” she stated.
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 many other things that matter in the footprint of science and society,” he stated.
But till there’s information to quantify these advantages, Dr. Ioannidis nonetheless finds worth in attempting to evaluate the consequences of the awards — and in urging the neighborhood to suppose deeply about easy methods to obtain extra rigorous, impactful work. “Science is the best thing that can happen to humans,” Dr. Ioannidis stated. But easy methods to finest exploit its advantages, he added, is a scientific query in itself.