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Make Way for New Ideas

Science pushes forward when eminent researchers, the defenders of their field's established theories, die, says a working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research.

A trio of NBER researchers examined the effect that the deaths of 452 academic life scientists at the top of their careers had on their respective fields. After their deaths, the number of papers published by their collaborators dropped, as compared to control fields, while those from non-collaborators increased by an average 8 percent.

These added papers, the trio says, are also more likely to be from researchers who hadn't been as active in the field previously and are more likely to be highly cited.

The careers of the junior researchers who'd worked with the eminent researchers also suffered, Vox's Brian Resnick notes.

"All this suggest there's a 'Goliath's shadow' effect," Resnick adds. "People are either prevented from or afraid of challenging a leading thinker in a field. That or scientific subfields are like grown-up versions of high school cafeteria tables. New people just can't sit there until the queen bee dies."