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Science. 2016 Nov 4;354(6312). pii: aaf5239.

Quantifying the evolution of individual scientific impact.

Author information

1
Center for Complex Network Research and Physics Department, Northeastern University, Boston, MA 02115, USA.
2
Center for Network Science and Math Department, Central European University, Budapest, Hungary.
3
Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208, USA.
4
Northwestern Institute on Complex Systems, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208, USA.
5
Department of Applied Mathematics, Université catholique de Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium.
6
Department of Physics, University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL 33124, USA.
7
Center for Complex Network Research and Physics Department, Northeastern University, Boston, MA 02115, USA. alb@neu.edu.
8
Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115, USA.
9
Center for Network Science, Central European University, Budapest, Hungary.
10
Center for Cancer Systems Biology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, MA 02115, USA.

Abstract

Despite the frequent use of numerous quantitative indicators to gauge the professional impact of a scientist, little is known about how scientific impact emerges and evolves in time. Here, we quantify the changes in impact and productivity throughout a career in science, finding that impact, as measured by influential publications, is distributed randomly within a scientist's sequence of publications. This random-impact rule allows us to formulate a stochastic model that uncouples the effects of productivity, individual ability, and luck and unveils the existence of universal patterns governing the emergence of scientific success. The model assigns a unique individual parameter Q to each scientist, which is stable during a career, and it accurately predicts the evolution of a scientist's impact, from the h-index to cumulative citations, and independent recognitions, such as prizes.

PMID:
27811240
DOI:
10.1126/science.aaf5239

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