When Leaders in a Field Die

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gleem

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What happens to research when a leading researcher passes away? A new study looked at this in the Life Sciences . The study observed that when a leading expert in a field died there was a significant increase in publications by new researchers (with new ideas?). it was also determined that those researchers who were coauthors with the expert had a dramatic decrease in their publications. The article suggests that current leaders in a field exert influence in making it more difficult for competing research (theories or approaches?) to gain acceptance

 
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Please allow me to expand this question to "any leader in any field". Leaders in any field tend to make whatever they are "famous" for attractive to others who want to share in the limelight. When that leader dies the central focus of that leader weakens and this allows other, more peripheral, focal points to gain attention. If I may make a parallel to professional cycling. When Lance Armstrong was at the top of the pyramid his personal style was high cadence and lower absolute pressure on the pedals. Everyone trained for higher cadence. If Jan Ulrich had been at the top eeryone would have been training for low cadence and high pedal pressure.
 

Klystron

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The leading researcher in a field need not actually die. Their ideas can be too advanced for most people to easily follow leading to uninformed criticism and ridicule. Illness and overwork may also interfere with their career.

Rocket pioneer Robert Goddard provides an eloquent example. Twenty years before rockets and missiles bombarded London and South England, forty odd years before a successful Lunar landing; Goddard was ridiculed and diminished in the press and by peers for expressing these very ideas; albeit as subscript to his numerous published experiments. Though Goddard survived bouts of tuberculosis, illness took a toll on his productivity and publications.

In line with the original post (OP) Werner Von Braun succeeded Goddard as lead rocketry researcher in the USA following Goddard's death in 1945 and after Von Braun's necessary cleansing from Nazi war crimes; but the damage to Goddard's reputation and loss of productivity from illness affected his career trajectory long before his demise.
 
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gleem

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Please allow me to expand this question to "any leader in any field". Leaders in any field tend to make whatever they are "famous" for attractive to others who want to share in the limelight. When that leader dies the central focus of that leader weakens and this allows other, more peripheral, focal points to gain attention. If I may make a parallel to professional cycling. When Lance Armstrong was at the top of the pyramid his personal style was high cadence and lower absolute pressure on the pedals. Everyone trained for higher cadence. If Jan Ulrich had been at the top eeryone would have been training for low cadence and high pedal pressure.
This example is one of imitation. Researchers do not imitate but take advantage of a new opportunity thus reinforcing the importance of it.


The leading researcher in a field need not actually die. Their ideas can be too advanced for most people to easily follow leading to uninformed criticism and ridicule. Illness and overwork may also interfere with their career.

This is not relevant to the article or its conclusions. An ideas often gain prominence by the status of the revered investigator which pushes any competing ideas to the sidelines especially so when the revered investigator and disciples refuses to acknowledge or support it . Let's face it we hold our own ideas so dear that when challenged we are obstinate to change our minds not really given to honestly evaluating the new idea or critically evaluating our own long held beliefs.


The article quotes Max Planck in support of its conclusion:

“A great scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it,”


Benjamin Franklin was to have said: " If everyone's thinking alike then no one is thinking."
 

Klystron

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This is not relevant to the article or its conclusions. An ideas often gain prominence by the status of the revered investigator which pushes any competing ideas to the sidelines especially so when the revered investigator and disciples refuses to acknowledge or support it . Let's face it we hold our own ideas so dear that when challenged we are obstinate to change our minds not really given to honestly evaluating the new idea or critically evaluating our own long held beliefs.


The article quotes Max Planck in support of its conclusion:

“A great scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it,”

Benjamin Franklin was to have said: " If everyone's thinking alike then no one is thinking."
I read the supporting article before and after my post on Goddard and the quote attributed to Max Planck. If a valid translation, I agree with Planck on principle. I do not agree with the article's premise as relevant to 21st Century information exchange. Granted, Planck faced formidable obstacles to new thinking but Einstein faced the same and managed to change contemporary mindset without contemplating the death of the old guard. Both proposed experiments that would verify or disprove their published ideas.

I admire Ben Franklin as founding father and statesman; enjoyed his witty prose and marveled at his (dangerous) experiments with electricity and lightning. Franklin embraced new political thinking from the Continent as did Thomas Jefferson without requiring King George's death.

All the above may have been relevant in the 18th and 19th Century, less so during the 20th, but is even less relevant in the Information Age in the 21st C. The OP's premise of the "great man stifling information exchange" therefor we must wait for her death to progress hardly applies even if you replace "leader" with the editorial board of Science or the Nobel committee of your choice.

Apply Franklin's quote to your own criticism. Must we agree with the premise of a thread to post?

Post contemporary examples that support the OP -- where publications are stifled until the death of a leader in that field -- even at the paltry 8% difference in sampled pubs before and after the demise. I do contend that public ridicule and uninformed opposition can stifle viable research but the age of the individual great leader stifling an entire STEM field has past. Thanks.
 

Vanadium 50

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As the authors state, theses results don't extend to other fields.

If you look at the data in the publication, it's not hugely compelling. You can't quite draw a line at zero through the error bars, but it's close.

I'm also not sure that it's saying anything non-trivial. When a bigshot dies, his co-authors publish less. Is this surprising? If the bigshot weren't bringing something to the paper, the co-authors would publish without him. And given that funding is largely a zero-sum game, and that publications follow funding, is it at all surprising that others become better supported? And this better support leads to more papers?

 

gleem

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.....Einstein faced the same and managed to change contemporary mindset.....
Not a good example. Einstein was prominent at the time of his General Theory endeavor and was in close contact with Hilbert, who he convinced, and who gave his whole heartily approval to Einstein's work.


All the above may have been relevant in the 18th and 19th Century, less so during the 20th, but is even less relevant in the Information Age in the 21st C. The OP's premise of the "great man stifling information exchange" therefor we must wait for her death to progress hardly applies even if you replace "leader" with the editorial board of Science or the Nobel committee of your choice.
This study only includes works and researchers who published in the twentieth century and even a little into the twenty first. The authors point out some amelioration of the problem that have made it difficult for new investigator to participate in a more meaningful way in a field particularity the new policies being instituted.

From the actual article:
Yet, the fact that the presence of a tutelar figurehead can freeze patterns of participation into a scientific field increases the appeal of policies that bolster access to less established or less well-connected investigators. Examples of such policies include caps on the amount of funding a single laboratory is eligible to receive, “bonus points” for first-time investigators in funding programs, emeritus awards to induce senior scientists to wind down their laboratory activities, and double-blind refereeing policies (Kaiser 2011, Berg 2012, Deng 2015).
Researches have identified problems with refereeing articles when the author and her institution of the article are revealed. Well known researchers and institutions have preference. While we have tacitly been assuming a sort of conspiracy against new comers but we must also consider the intimidation to proffering an idea that might seem as a challenge to a prominent researcher, a sort of self censoring.



Apply Franklin's quote to your own criticism. Must we agree with the premise of a thread to post?
Franklin's quote does not apply to acceptance of an idea per se. and certainly not to new ideas for we would then all be skeptics and nothing would be accomplished.

No we must not agree but we should have evidence available to challenge the premise if we do not agree. Of course you can also choose to ignore the article.





Post contemporary examples that support the OP -- where publications are stifled until the death of a leader in that field -- even at the paltry 8% difference in sampled pubs before and after the demise.
The 8% includes heavily cited, rising authors new to the field. The 20% reduction in publications by collaborators to my mind is astonishing. These collaborators need not be those who co-published but also those that participated in the development of the luminary's ideas.

As the authors state, theses results don't extend to other fields.
True, but since we are all human and subject to the general faults and foibles of humanity I also conclude that such behavior cannot be just limited to the life sciences. In fact the study begs the question of how prominent this effect is in other research areas. In their article they do go on to state "Assessing the degree to which our results extend to other settings, and the reasons they might differ, represents a fruitful area for future research. "


If you look at the data in the publication, it's not hugely compelling. You can't quite draw a line at zero through the error bars, but it's close.
An it cannot be ignored either. I find the data enticing.


And given that funding is largely a zero-sum game, and that publications follow funding, is it at all surprising that others become better supported? And this better support leads to more papers?
Why not see a rise in the collaborator (collaborator in the sense of supporting an idea or approach as opposed to a coauthor) funding and the maintaining of their publication output. Their names and institutions are well known. In my opinion a 20% drop is huge. That 20% of course probably does not mean across the board and could be a professionally serious problem for some of those collaborators.
 

Dr. Courtney

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“A great scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it,”
When we were first entering the field of ballistics, some of our findings were vehemently opposed by the old stalwarts in the field who had some accomplishments, but couldn't really point to any hard data contradicting our findings. We eventually gave up asking them to "show us the data" knowing they would soon retire and die and our data driven findings would become widely accepted by the new generation replacing them. Sure, the old guard has a few steadfast disciples who still maintain the old positions. They just have a hard time asserting them any more in peer-reviewed journals.

The real challenge is not to recognize the common pattern of old stalwarts needing to retire/die for new ideas to be accepted. The real challenge is not becoming one of those old stalwarts who, based on some old accomplishments, esteems one's own opinions too highly and has a mind that cannot be changed with hard data.
 
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If you look at the data in the publication, it's not hugely compelling. You can't quite draw a line at zero through the error bars, but it's close.
Figure F3A? A straight line works nicely - which just means over time more people in the field never published together with the famous scientist.

Publication can be found here

They cite the combined ATLAS+CMS Higgs measurement as example for big collaborations.
 

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