Scientific Teams: Their Formation, Size Evolution and the Modes of Knowledge Production

Wednesdays@NICO Seminar, Noon, May 14, 2014, Chambers Hall, Lower Level: Professor Stasa Milojevic, Indiana University 


What do soccer scores, number of children in a family, car accidents and pathogen counts have in common? They, like many other phenomena, are governed by the Poisson process. Recently I have shown that the same process determines the sizes of research teams. Or... at least it did... five decades ago. In the majority of disciplines research papers used to feature a single author and only occasionally several. Most research "teams" were composed of one person. Having many co-authors was as rare as having multiple unrelated car accidents. However, nowadays, it is quite common to see papers with tens or even hundreds of authors. How did this happen? And what happened to the Poisson process and the small teams that it would form? The model I developed explains this. It shows that today, unlike in the past, there are two types of research teams. First are "core" teams that still form by the Poisson process and consist of small number of authors. However, over the past five decades in fields such as astronomy and physics another type of teams started to emerge, what I call "extended" teams. Unlike the core teams these teams get exponentially bigger as the time goes on, and the modeling I performed suggests that this happens because of the process of cumulative advantage related to team productivity. It is significant that these two types of teams co-exist today, even in fields that increasingly publish using large extended teams, such as astronomy. Revealing that scientific knowledge is produced in two very different modes and that one of them is gaining ground is very important for understanding the science as a social undertaking with implications for interpreting different measures of research evaluation.


Staša Milojević is an assistant professor in the School of Informatics and Computing, a core faculty of Cognitive Science program, and a fellow of the Rob Kling Center for Social Informatics at Indiana University, Bloomington. She received her PhD in Information Studies at University of California, Los Angeles. Her research combines theoretical, statistical and computational approaches to study how modern scientific disciplines form, organize, and develop.