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Exploring the role of interdisciplinarity in physics: Success, talent and luck

Although interdisciplinarity is often touted as a necessity for modern research, the evidence on the relative impact of sectorial versus to interdisciplinary science is qualitative at best. In this paper we leverage the bibliographic data set of the American Physical Society to quantify the role of interdisciplinarity in physics, and that of talent and luck in achieving success in scientific careers. We analyze a period of 30 years (1980-2009) tagging papers and their authors by means of the Physics and Astronomy Classification Scheme (PACS), to show that some degree of interdisciplinarity is quite helpful to reach success, measured as a proxy of either the number of articles or the citations score.

We also propose an agent-based model of the publication-reputation-citation dynamics which reproduces the trends observed in the APS data set. On the one hand, the results highlight the crucial role of randomness and serendipity in real scientific research; on the other, they shed light on a counterintuitive effect indicating that the most talented authors are not necessarily the most successful ones.


A. Pluchino, G. Burgio, A. Rapisarda, et al., Exploring the role of interdisciplinarity in physics: Success, talent and luck, PLoS ONE 14 (6) (2019) e0218793

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