Chaining and the process of scientific innovation

AbstractA scientist’s academic pursuit can follow a winding path. Starting with one topic of research in earlier career, one may later pursue topics that relate remotely to the initial point. Philosophers and cognitive scientists have proposed theories about how science has developed, but their emphasis is typically not on explaining the processes of innovation in individual scientists. We examine regularity in the emerging order of a scientist’s publications over time. Our basic premise is that scientific papers should emerge in non-arbitrary ways that tend to follow a process of chaining, whereby novel papers are linked to existing papers with closely related ideas. We evaluate this proposal with a set of probabilistic models on the historical publications from 70 Turing Award winners. We show that an exemplar model of chaining best explains the data among the alternative models, mirroring recent findings on chaining in the growth of linguistic meaning.

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