The Scientific Prize Network Predicts Who Pushes the Boundaries of Science

Authors : Yifang Ma, Brian Uzzi

Scientific prizes are among the greatest recognition a scientist receives from their peers and arguably shape the direction of a field by conferring credibility to persons, ideas, and disciplines, providing financial rewards, and promoting rituals that reinforce scientific communities.

The proliferation of prizes and links among prizes suggest that the prize network embodies information about scientists and ideas poised to grow in acclaim. Using comprehensive new data on prizes and prizewinners worldwide and across disciplines, we examine the growth dynamics and interlocking relationships found in the worldwide scientific prize network.

We focus on understanding how the knowledge linkages among prizes and scientists’ propensities for prizewinning are related to knowledge pathways across disciplines and stratification within disciplines.

We find several key links between prizes and scientific advances.

First, despite a proliferation of diverse prizes over time and across the globe, prizes are more concentrated within a relatively small group of scientific elites, and ties within the elites are more clustered, suggesting that a relatively constrained number of ideas and scholars lead science.

Second, we find that certain prizes are strongly interlocked within and between disciplines by scientists who win multiple prizes, revealing the key pathways by which knowledge systematically gains credit and spreads through the network.

Third, we find that genealogical and co authorship networks strongly predict who wins one or more prizes and explains the high level of interconnections among acclaimed scientists and their path breaking ideas.