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PLoS Comput Biol. 2009 Mar;5(3):e1000320. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000320. Epub 2009 Mar 20.

On the growth of scientific knowledge: yeast biology as a case study.

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State Key Laboratory of Biocontrol, School of Life Sciences, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, China.


The tempo and mode of human knowledge expansion is an enduring yet poorly understood topic. Through a temporal network analysis of three decades of discoveries of protein interactions and genetic interactions in baker's yeast, we show that the growth of scientific knowledge is exponential over time and that important subjects tend to be studied earlier. However, expansions of different domains of knowledge are highly heterogeneous and episodic such that the temporal turnover of knowledge hubs is much greater than expected by chance. Familiar subjects are preferentially studied over new subjects, leading to a reduced pace of innovation. While research is increasingly done in teams, the number of discoveries per researcher is greater in smaller teams. These findings reveal collective human behaviors in scientific research and help design better strategies in future knowledge exploration.

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