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Star Scientists Align

While scientific output has suffered in evolutionary biology departments, individual researchers are churning out more than ever, thanks in part to geographically distant collaborations.

By | December 3, 2013

FLICKR, NAMIBNATEvolutionary biology research output has declined at the departmental level but increased at the individual level, a study has found. Writing in The National Bureau of Economic Research, University of Toronto’s Ajay Agrawal, John McHale from Queen’s School of Business in Kingston, Ontario, and Alexander Oettl from the Georgia Institute of Technology show that evolutionary biology publications fell between 1980 and 2000 in top university departments. At the same time, the number of papers from so called “star scientists” grew.

Agrawal, McHale, and Oettl attribute this trend in part to an increase in wide-reaching collaborations during the last few decades. Because of the rising costs of doing research and the falling price of communication, the authors wrote, “the propensity to collaborate is rising over time.”

Specifically, the authors noted that star scientists seem to be increasingly working with other stars, despite distance between them, rather than working with colleagues at their own institution. Between 1980 and 2005, the average geographic distance between scientific collaborators increased from 325 miles to 500 miles, for example.

The researchers added that while this trend may yield some high-impact science, it could also divide the field. There is reason for “concern about lost opportunities for stars to seed focused and dynamic research clusters at lower-ranked institutions,” they wrote.

(Hat tip: Inside Higher Ed)

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