Commentary: Fast Science Vs. Slow Science, Or Slow And Steady Wins The Race

Today, more than ever, scientists are finding themselves immersed in "hot" fields--highly publicized, hyperdramatized research areas in which pursuit of funding is wildly competitive and change is quick. The media, ever in pursuit of the big story, the banner headline, stoke the fire, seizing every opportunity to trumpet sudden breakthroughs. Thus perpetuated is the public's widely held misapprehension that scientific progress is achieved primarily in sudden flashes of genius or serendipity by

Eugene Garfield
Sep 16, 1990

Today, more than ever, scientists are finding themselves immersed in "hot" fields--highly publicized, hyperdramatized research areas in which pursuit of funding is wildly competitive and change is quick. The media, ever in pursuit of the big story, the banner headline, stoke the fire, seizing every opportunity to trumpet sudden breakthroughs. Thus perpetuated is the public's widely held misapprehension that scientific progress is achieved primarily in sudden flashes of genius or serendipity by scientists shouting, "Eureka!"

Most working scientists, of course, are aware of a less glamorous reality: The unexpected discovery is the rare exception; most scientific advances depend on long-term, persistent, methodical research. It's not the stuff of headlines or television docudramas, but it's the way most science gets done. Research citation analysis clearly bears this out. Indeed, the publishing records of Nobel-class scientists demonstrate that some of the most important discoveries have resulted from decades of work. Rather than...