A study of “star” scientists in biology discovers an unsurprising fact: their fields undergo a substantial change when they die.
In the first two years after a star’s death, publications in their subfields increased modestly. But as the years passed, breaking the numbers down by author showed a startling change: Papers by newcomers grew by 8.6 percent annually on average. At the same time, papers published by collaborators took a nosedive, decreasing by about 20 percent a year. After five years, growth from newcomers was so substantial, it made up for the deficit from the collaborators.
In other words, large swaths of these fields had essentially been turned over.
Strangely, the article doesn’t dwell much on the likely cause: funding. It doesn’t even have to be intentional, but reviewers and study sections at the funding agencies tend to be biased by the presence of those who have already been funded, and big labs will have an undue influence because they have so many former students cheerleading for their mentors. This stuff also affects hiring — if you come from a famous lab, you’re more likely to get interviews and jobs.
That’s always been my impression, nice to see the inertia of big-name biologists measured.