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How citation boosts promote scientific paradigm shifts and Nobel prizes

Mazloumian, Amin and Eom, Young-Ho and Helbing, Dirk and Lozano, Sergi and Fortunato, Santo (2011) How citation boosts promote scientific paradigm shifts and Nobel prizes. PLoS One, 6 (5). ISSN 1932-6203

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Nobel Prizes are commonly seen to be among the most prestigious achievements of our times. Based on mining several million citations, we quantitatively analyze the processes driving paradigm shifts in science. We find that groundbreaking discoveries of Nobel Prize Laureates and other famous scientists are not only acknowledged by many citations of their landmark papers. Surprisingly, they also boost the citation rates of their previous publications. Given that innovations must outcompete the rich-gets-richer effect for scientific citations, it turns out that they can make their way only through citation cascades. A quantitative analysis reveals how and why they happen. Science appears to behave like a self-organized critical system, in which citation cascades of all sizes occur, from continuous scientific progress all the way up to scientific revolutions, which change the way we see our world. Measuring the ‘‘boosting effect’’ of landmark papers, our analysis reveals how new ideas and new players can make their way and finally triumph in a world dominated by established paradigms. The underlying "boost factor" is also useful to discover scientific breakthroughs and talents much earlier than through classical citation analysis, which by now has become a widespread method to measure scientific excellence, influencing scientific careers and the distribution of research funds. Our findings reveal patterns of collective social behavior, which are also interesting from an attention economics perspective. Understanding the origin of scientific authority may therefore ultimately help to explain how social influence comes about and why the value of goods depends so strongly on the attention they attract.