The decline of disruptiveness

Authors of “Papers and patents are becoming less disruptive over time,” recently published on Nature, argue that disruptiveness in papers and patents is declining as well as word diversity and combinatorial novelty. At the same time, declining disruptiveness does not preclude individual disruptive works. A substantive shift is undergoing in science and technology, they argue, that might appear as the slowing of innovative activity. Authors attribute their findings to a reliance on a narrower set of existing knowledge; this benefits individual careers but not scientific progress. Scholars, say the authors, may be encouraged to read widely and be given time to get familiar with the ever growing knowledge frontier.

Reading the paper I also thought disruptiveness is undermined by narrowing down slices of knowledge and yes I also think this is product of pursuing research for the sake of individual career paths. There are many more of course, like the radical increase of PhD research produced and published (and through that, the promotion of individuality in doing research), higher competition between institutions, lack of time for keeping up with all that is being simultaneously developed, you name it. I do think however that technological innovation in particular, often suffers from lack of relevance probably because it has been the case that people attributed more value on the power of technology itself rather than what drives it. The effects of Modernism and the siloing of knowledge production is now becoming increasingly more apparent causing, what the authors call, the discrepancy between the availability of knowledge and its use. Which is probably where we stand at the moment: too far ahead in the specific and too weak in making it relevant for others.

That said, it is no wonder that the wow effect of the very specific technology produced does little good to us in the midst of the overall crises we live in. The magnitude of our problems together with our incapacity to produce credible answers for them shows that maybe technology alone cannot be the answer for everything. And maybe that is why innovation is ceasing or slowing down: we are at crossroads; we are at that awkward moment in time that we’ve lost sight of the others. So, how do we move forward? The paper’s authors ask for broader research and more time. They also oddly claim that the philosophy of science believes in the potential of knowledge accumulated. Maybe so, but then again very Popper-proper. Maybe it is Kuhn’s change of paradigm what we are really, really, desperately in need of. Maybe then the new disruptive will be what makes sense for the many.

One thought on “The decline of disruptiveness

  1. Pingback: Looking Back and Looking Forward — To Resist or Embrace Technology Disruptions? | Rob Reynolds

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