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'Down-shifting' among top UK scientists? - The decline of 'revolutionary science' and the rise of 'normal science' in the UK compared with the USA

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Bruce Charlton, Dr Peter Andras


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It is sometimes asserted that UK science is thriving, at other times that it has declined. We suggest that both assertions are partly true because the UK is thriving with respect to the volume of 'normal' science production but at the same time declining in the highest level of 'revolutionary' science. Revolutionary science may be distinguished from normal science in that revolutionary science aims at generating qualitative advances which change the direction of established science, while 'normal' science aims at incremental progress extrapolating from established science. Revolutionary science has been measured by counting national numbers of science Nobel laureates and ISI Highly Cited (HiCi) scientists; normal science has been measured using the total volume of scientific publications and citations at both national and institutional levels. By these criteria the UK has been progressively catching-up with the USA in terms of normal science since the 1990s. At the same time the UK has declined in revolutionary science over recent decades by a significant brain drain of future Nobel laureates and HiCi scientists, and a sharply reduced success (both in absolute and compared with the USA) at winning science Nobel prizes. One possible cause for this pattern could be a time-lag, such that the UK's improved science production since about 1990 may eventually work-through into improved UK performance in revolutionary science. More pessimistically, this pattern may reflect a strategic down-shift of the best UK-resident scientists away from revolutionary science and towards less-ambitious and safer normal science which is more productive in the short term. © 2008.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Charlton BG, Andras P

Publication type: Editorial

Publication status: Published

Journal: Medical Hypotheses

Year: 2008

Volume: 70

Issue: 3

Pages: 465-472

ISSN (print): 0306-9877

ISSN (electronic): 1532-2777


DOI: 10.1016/j.mehy.2007.12.004

PubMed id: 18226860