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What blocks new ideas in science?


How about old ideas?

Let’s start at the end. Suppose we’ve recently published an article on an unusual new idea. How is it received by the scientific community?

Wang, Veugelers, and Stephan (2017) look at academic papers published across most scientific fields in 2001 and devise a way to try and measure how novel these papers are. They then look at how novel papers are subsequently cited (or not) by different groups.

To measure the novelty of a paper, they rely on the notion that novelty is about combining pre-existing ideas in new and unexpected ways. They use the references cited as a proxy for the sources of ideas that a paper grapples with, and look for papers that cite pairs of journals that have not previously been jointly cited. The 11.5% of papers with at least one pair of journals never previously cited together in the same paper are called “moderately” novel in their paper.

But they also go a bit further. Some new combinations are more unexpected than others. For example, it might be that I am the first to cite a paper from a monetary policy journal and an international trade journal. That’s kind of creative, maybe. But it would be really weird if I cited a paper from a monetary policy journal and a cell biology journal. Wang, Veuglers, and Stephan, create a new category for “highly” novel papers, which cite a pair of journals that have never been cited together in the past, and also are not even in the same neighborhood. Here, we mean journals that are not well “connected” by some other pair of journals.

Matt Clancy, “Conservatism in science” at What’s New Under the Sun (October 12, 2021)

Clancy admits that his article is a work in progress and subject to change.

Let's remember that Einstein pretty much got kicked out of the academy and it was in the Bern Patent Office, free of professors telling him his ideas were all wrong, that the anno mirabili was spawned. PaV
There's a wide territory for new ideas in science that never gets explored because the topic has been forbidden. Silver Asiatic
Regarding Wang, Veugelers, and Stephan (2017), what a great idea! It seems like one obvious source is the pathology of an academic community that staunchly opposed Ignaz Semmelweis and their descendants. -Q Querius
Wrong measurement. Many ordinary and orthodox ideas cite refs from wide-ranging subjects. Being "interdisciplinary" is an important part of orthodoxy now. All the fashionable "Centres for" are interdisciplinary. Simple binary measurement: A paper uniformly rejected by peer reviewers is novel. polistra

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