Breakthrough Recognition: Bias Against Novelty and Competition for Attention

Anoop Menon, and Sen Chai, Harvard University

Research Policy: Volume 48, Issue 3, April 2019

Abstract: Adding to the literature on the recognition and spread of ideas, and alongside the bias against novelty view documented in prior research, we introduce the perspective that articles compete for the attention of researchers who might build upon them. We investigate this effect by analyzing more than 5.3 million research publications from 1970 to 1999 in the life sciences. In support of our competition for attention perspective, we show that articles covering rarely addressed topics tend to receive more citations and have a higher chance of being breakthrough papers as compared to articles on more popular topics. We also explore conditions under which these effects might vary by using decade subsamples, home- versus foreign-field forward citations, as well as short-, medium- and long-term time windows. Finally, we also find evidence consistent with the previously documented bias against novelty and show that both mechanisms can work simultaneously.

Read the full paper here.

Listen to Anoop Menon discuss this research here.