Scientists are the most innovative early in their careers according to a new study.
The findings show that the impact of published work on a scientist's career is between half and two-thirds.
Bruce Weinberg is a professor of economics at The Ohio State University.
The work of biomedical scientists was not as innovative as it was when they were younger.
Weinberg said that the reasons behind the decline in innovativeness make the findings more nuanced and show why it's important to support scientists later in their careers.
The study was published in the journal of human resources.
For nearly 150 years, researchers have studied the relationship between age and experience with innovation. Findings have been all over the map.
It is remarkable that we don't have a conclusive answer for a topic that so many people have studied for a long time.
The authors had a huge dataset to work with, and it was compiled by MEDLINE. Information on the authors is included in the data.
The number of times other scientists mention a study in their own work was used to measure the innovativeness of the articles. The more citations a study gets, the more important it is.
The researchers were able to compare how often scientists' work was cited early in their careers compared to later in their careers with the help of detailed information on the authors of each paper.
Weinberg and his colleagues found a way to understand how innovation changes over a career.
Scientists who were the least innovative early in their careers were more likely to leave the field and stop publishing new research. The most important young scholars were the ones who were still producing research 20 or 30 years later.
Scientists show a variety of innovativeness early in their careers. Over time, we see attrition of people who are less innovative.
It doesn't seem like innovation is declining over time when you look at all the scientists. The fact that the least innovative researchers are dropping out when they are young hides the fact that innovativeness tends to decline over time.
The results show that a scientific article published late in a researcher's career is less likely to be cited than an article published early in their career.
It wasn't just citation counts that suggested researchers were less innovative.
The same conclusion is reached by these other metrics.
Weinberg said that the findings showing the attrition of less innovative scientists can help explain the conflicting results of previous studies.
The peak ages for innovation tend to be earlier for studies using renowned researchers. Studies using larger cross-sections of scientists don't usually find an early peak in creativity because they don't account for attrition.
Weinberg said that attrition in the scientific community may not be related to innovation. This study can't quantify the effect, but it is possible that scientists fromunderrepresented minorities didn't have the opportunities to succeed.
He said that scientists who succeeded probably did so through a combination of talent, luck, personal background and previous training.
According to the findings, organizations that fund scientists have to balance support for youth and experience.
Young scientists tend to be at their peak of creativity, with some being more innovative than others. Gerald Marschke is a co-author of the study and an associate professor of economics at the University of Albany.
"With older, more experienced scientists, you're getting the ones who have stood the test of time, but who aren't at their best anymore."More information: Huifeng Yu et al, Publish or Perish: Selective Attrition as a Unifying Explanation for Patterns in Innovation over the Career, Journal of Human Resources (2022). DOI: 10.3368/jhr.59.2.1219-10630R1 Journal information: Journal of Human Resources