Advances in science and technology have slowed, key study finds

Despite advances in areas such as artificial intelligence, medicine, and nuclear power, major advances in science and technology are slowing down and coming to fewer and more distant places than they did a few decades ago, a to learn published in nature. This is a stagnation that researchers say needs to be reversed to combat some of the most pressing issues facing humanity today, such as climate change.

highlights

  • Despite the explosive growth of innovation and scientific research in recent decades, developments have become more gradual and less disruptive, with progress stagnating in several key areas, the researchers noted.
  • Researchers analyzed approximately 45 million scientific papers and 3.9 million patents between 1945 and 2010, examining citation networks to assess whether breakthroughs have bolstered the status quo or disrupted existing knowledge and dramatically propelled science and technology in new directions.
  • Across all major fields of science and technology, such large breaks — the discovery of DNA’s double-helix structure, which rendered previous research obsolete, is a good example — have become rarer since 1945, researchers have found.
  • Instead, citation patterns suggest that papers and patents are increasingly consolidating and expanding rather than disrupting existing knowledge, the researchers said, with innovators tapping knowledge sources from ever closer proximity to further develop their work.
  • More incremental work means “it may take longer to achieve those important breakthroughs that advance science more dramatically,” said Russell Funk, a professor at the University of Minnesota and one of the study’s authors.
  • According to the researchers, these findings underscore the need to rethink the way we conduct scientific research to better facilitate disruptive work and harness innovation to address humanity’s most pressing issues such as climate change and space exploration.

What we don’t know

It is unclear why scientific and technological innovation slowed in the decades after 1945. The researchers said their finding – which they also observed by analyzing the type of language used in patents and academic papers over the same period – is unlikely to be due to: a decline in research quality as the innovation decline continued, even if they only analyzed high-profile publications and Nobel Prize-winning discoveries. Statistical analyzes also ruled out changes in publication, intellectual property, and citation practices. Popular ideas that scientists have picked all the “ripe fruit” — relatively easy advances in the field — or are taking longer to form given the greater body of knowledge, have difficulty explaining similar rates of decline across disciplines.

against

The massive advances in science and technology in recent years – such as leaps forward in artificial intelligence, nuclear fusion and gene editing – make it hard to believe that the progress scientist is stagnant. According to the researchers, these advances are not inconsistent with the slowdown. Reducing disruptive work doesn’t prevent breakthroughs, it just slows the rate at which they occur. The detection of gravitational waves and the development of Covid-19 mRNA vaccines are two prime examples of highly disruptive work at a time when most research is more incremental in nature, they added.

to monitor

The nature of scientific research is imperfect, and there are many criticisms of the way funding is secured, the research directions chosen, the diversity of researchers and subjects, and the pressure on scientists to publish. The researchers, who said their findings call for a rethink of the way research is conducted and advocated giving academics the freedom to focus on quality and broaden their horizons, joined a chorus of other people who campaigned for a revision of the search.

Article translated from Forbes US – Author: Robert Hart

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