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Patterns of Intellectual Influence in Scientific Research

Jonathan R. Cole
Sociology of Education
Vol. 43, No. 4 (Autumn, 1970), pp. 377-403
DOI: 10.2307/2111839
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2111839
Page Count: 27
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Patterns of Intellectual Influence in Scientific Research
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Abstract

A widespread conception of the development of science holds that the great discoveries are a result of the cumulative work of a vast number of scientists. Those historians and philosophers of science who express this point of view see the scientist who produces pedestrian research as an integral part of the developmental process. The great men of science stand atop a pyramid of less distinguished and, to a large extent, invisible scientists. An alternative hypothesis holds that relatively few scientists are responsible for advance in science and that, in the broader historical perspective, most of the eminent scientists, even of the calibre of Nobel laureates and National Academy members of today, are the "pedestrians" of history. This paper attempts to put these conflicting ideas to empirical test for the field of physics. Three independent sets of data are analyzed: one is drawn from a stratified random sample of American academic physicists, a second from a subjective evaluation of significant contributions to recent physics, a third from a set of papers cited in The Physical Review. All three sets of data indicate that there is a sharp stratification in the use of work published by various types of scientists. The data support the hypothesis that the physicists who produce important discoveries depend almost wholly on the research produced by a relatively small number of scientists. The implications of these findings for the social structure of science are discussed and areas for necessary future research are suggested.

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