Around the California Institute of Technology, members of Leroy Hood’s lab occasionally call themselves the “Gang of 70.” In fact, the precise number working for one of the world’s top biologists changes constantly with the natural ebb and flow of graduate students, postdoctorates, and technical staff. But the spirit of the nickname remains constant: Hood’s team is big, anywhere from eight to 10 times bigger than the typical academic lab team. However, the group manages to buck the general criticism that big groups aren’t productive.

In a typical year, the team publishes 30 or more journal articles. But that, says Hood, is not the definitive measure of productivity. “I think what really counts is what you do that is new and significant and different,” Hood says. “That isn’t quantifiable by the numbers of papers. It’s quantifiable by the impact it [the teami has on the biological community.”

Using Hood’s standard,...

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