The Disruptiveness in Science is Slowing: An Inside Look on Why

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Both papers and patents regarding all disciplines of science have decreased in causing change, or disruptiveness. (Image Credit: Nature)

Innovation and creativity have been fundamental parts of the greatest technological advancements in history. Over the last decades, various experts have sustained technology’s greatest accomplishments with Moore’s Law. This law ensures that a computer’s capacity doubles every two years, making them powerful enough for more complex challenges. However, technology is not limited to digitalization. Moreover, Moore’s law encounters a significant limit when bits — computer’s fundamental unit — reach extreme microscopic dimensions: for example, in 2012, IBM represented a bit in just 12 atoms. We must note that at the same time, scientists and scholars noticed heating costs and physics limitations of smaller bits, therefore they started to consider the quantum computer as a new resource. This new computer doesn’t have the mentioned limitations among other benefits. However, this research started 53 years ago, and we are still developing the deployment of this new kind of computer.

In January this year, a research paper published in Nature demonstrated that the number of disruptive scientific discoveries are declining from a 50-100% compared to latest 2 decades.

In an interview with the paper’s author, he mentioned that this could be part of the cycle of innovation and science:

“Yeah, well, and there’s been, you know, very dramatic changes in science over the course of that period in how science is done. And so there’s been kind of corresponding dramatic increases in how science is organized. There’s also been huge increases, even greater increases in the amount of prior scientific knowledge that people have to learn to get to the frontiers of their fields, which has made science more challenging to do.”

— Russell Funk, author of “Papers and patents are becoming less disruptive over time. Nature. (2023)”

Yet, this declining trend of disruptiveness is observed across disciplines and not only in research papers, but also in patents, the study shows. And in both, there is a higher quality expectation that requires more interdisciplinary collaboration. In more depth of the data from the study, a great majority of disruptive scientific achievements superior to their timeline, are enriched with an interdisciplinary portfolio, experience and knowledge.

Furthermore, related to the recently convened AI Summit in United Kingdom, David Martinez, professor and Laboratory Fellow at MIT Lincoln Laboratory, shared on a webinar I was invited to, that even policymakers require a technical and systems approach.

Highlighting Funk’s analysis, knowledge doubles every day. In 2020, IBM predicted that for the following years it will double every 11-12 hours — half a day. It is especially complex for scientists and scholars to stay on top of this accelerated knowledge, and to be involved in the selective pioneer environments that are developing frontier advancements. This has led to scientists to focus in only one task and very narrow areas of specialization.

Institutions such as the National Conference of State Legislatures, and MIT Institute For Data, Systems, And Society, have increased the number of data and policy intersection related initiatives; study areas that have historically not been as interdisciplinary as the healthcare field. Furthermore, a Georgia Tech paper highlighted that healthcare started to become more interdisciplinary due to works in law, policy and ethics. A similar interest trend is starting to be seen worldwide over the latest technology advancements.

As the most excelled scientific and scholarly communities recognize that current global challenges increasingly require large and interdisciplinary perspectives, it remains a challenge whenever institutions are ready for the scaling quality exigency of new discoveries and interdisciplinary readiness during knowledge’s exponential evolution.

Essentially, readiness for the intersection of academia and industry disciplines unlocks more feasible and impartial solutions to the pressing challenges.

Written by Emily Ulloa

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