Bruce Weinberg

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Melbourne Institute Seminar Series

Title:  Publish or Perish: Selective Attrition as An Unifying Explanation for Patterns in Innovation over the Career

Abstract: The question of how the quantity and quality of research output varies over the career has been analyzed empirically across many disciplines but has produced conflicting answers. Providing a salient answer to this line of inquiry directly informs federal research policy and serves as a laboratory for understanding a broader set of questions related to human capital accumulation over the career. Here, we study 5.6 million articles published in the biomedical science between 1980 and 2009 and use rich characterizations of citations and natural language processing to measure the quality of articles. We provide evidence of selective attrition whereby low quantity and quality researchers publish more when they are young while quantity (but not quality) increases over the career for the best researchers. We find that controlling for selective attrition reconciles the long-standing conflicts in the existing literature. Specifically, the quality of research declines monotonically over the career for the average researcher but this decline is masked because the authors publishing at later ages are the ones who produce the highest quality research. Our results have implications for efforts to shift funding from late- to early-career researchers – while such policies will provide more funding to researchers at the point when they are most creative, these benefits may be mitigated by funding researchers who are less productive on average

Presenter: Bruce Weinberg, The Ohio State University

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