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Superstar Extinction « Creativity & Innovation

Posted on by Brandon Klein

How important is collaboration in scientific laboratories? A new paper by Pierre Azoulay, Joshua Graff Zivin, and Jialan Wang* studied what happens to research productivity when an academic “superstar” dies while they’re still actively engaged in scientific research. A superstar is a brilliant scientist who teams up with others to collaboratively conduct research and who co-authors with other scientists.

The researchers analyzed the coauthors of 137 eminent life scientists. On average, each superstar had 73 coauthors. (That number alone is astonishing, and shows how collaborative modern science is.)

Following the death of the superstar, his or her colleagues suffer a quality-adjusted decline in productivity of 8% to 18%. The authors found that this decline was lasting. Furthermore, the closer you collaborated with the superstar, the more your productivity declined. Their conclusion: