A group of scientists from the Boston’s Northeastern University, led by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi conducted a study aimed to determine whether a success of scientific work depends on the age. The researchers analyzed the scientific work of several thousand scientists from different fields of knowledge and found that the most highly-cited were equally likely to be found at the beginning, middle or end of the work period.
It was concluded that the success of any scientist is not subject to any laws. So, when a scientist publishes his scientific work, whether it is his first job or the last one – the chances for success are the same.
This might seem to conflict with the well-documented finding that big discoveries and high-impact work tend to happen early in a scientist’s career.
But there’s no contradiction, because the new work also shows that productivity — the number of papers produced per year — tends to slowly decline over a typical career. A scientist’s chance of securing a ‘greatest hit’ accordingly decreases over time, simply because they have fewer shots at it.
In the process of the study, the researchers have developed a mathematical method for calculating the probability of success of a particular scientific work. The success of a work depends on two factors – the element of luck and the quality of work – Q-factor (the ability of a scientist to affect a study). This method was applied to 2’887 physicists. In the end, it turned out that the element of luck for all participating in the experiment was identical, while the Q-factor depended on the number of citations that a scientist has received over a certain time frame.
The Q-factor remained approximately on the same level for a scientific career, although it was expected that this value should rise, as a scientist would become more experienced in the course of time. According to Barabasi, the factor is predetermined, since it is a kind of combination of abilities and education.
That’s why the Q-factor, compared to other methods, more accurately detects the Nobel and other prizes laureates. Moreover, the factor allows predicting success even at an early stage of scientific activity.
However, the only Q-factor connot predict a brilliant career, and a scientist must constantly motivate himself to research activities, since an important factor is productivity.
The novelty of the new study is that it is now possible to measure individual abilities of a scientist and find out, whether he achieves success in the future (if not already achieved).