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Big teams rarely come up with innovations

23 3 0

NEW YORK - Moments of great scientific disruption aren’t necessarily glamorous. A world-changing idea might spring up when someone is sitting in an office or scrawling notes, or maybe riffing with a colleague. (Those few colorful stories of Newton’s apple and Archimedes’ bathtub are probably apocryphal.)

Big projects leave more vivid impressions — landing on the moon, testing atom bombs, or, more recently, finding the Higgs boson and detecting Einstein’s predicted gravitational waves using a pair of sprawling but stunningly precise detectors. The paper announcing the Higgs boson boasted 5,000 authors, the one on gravitational wave detection, 1,011 authors. So why bother with small projects at all?

A new analysis suggests the papers that spawn whole new branches of science most often spring from lone researchers or small groups, and the more innovative and disruptive the findings, the smaller the teams. Big teams are still needed for some kinds of tasks, but the most successful of them either test an existing hypothesis or conduct some feat of applied science, such as turning the principle of nuclear fission into a bomb.

The small team of three people who recently published the team size analysis in Nature took advantage of a massive database containing 65 million documented advances — scientific papers, patents and software........

© The Japan Times