According to a recent study, the rate at which we are making ground-breaking scientific discoveries and technological innovations is slowing down, even though we have more knowledge than ever before. This study, published in the journal Nature, is the first to show that this decline in disruptive research is happening across all major fields of science and technology. Disruptive research is research that breaks away from existing ideas and pushes the whole field into new territory.
The researchers studied 45 million scientific papers from 1945 to 2010 and 3.9 million US patents from 1976 to 2010. They found that papers and patents are more likely now to build upon previous knowledge rather than create new ideas. The physical sciences, such as physics and chemistry, saw the biggest decrease in disruptive research.
There are a few theories as to why this is happening. One is the “burden of research,” which means that there is so much that scientists have to learn in order to be experts in their field that they don’t have time to explore new ideas. Another reason could be that academics are under a lot of pressure to publish more papers, so they focus on building upon existing knowledge rather than trying something new.
To address this decline in disruptive research, the researchers suggest that universities and funding agencies should focus more on quality rather than quantity and consider giving academics year-long sabbaticals to allow them to read and think more deeply. It’s important to remember that we are still capable of making incredible innovations and progress, as seen in recent breakthroughs such as mRNA technology in Covid-19 vaccines and the measurement of gravity waves. However, this decline in disruptive research is a cause for concern and finding ways to encourage and support this type of research will be important for continuing to make significant advancements in the future.