If you want to open a restaurant, you first have to invest — in servers, cooks, facilities and equipment — before you can turn a profit. “Political decision makers and investors in a region face a similar situation. If they decide to invest in a new field of research, they have to become leaders at some point in order to profit,” explains CSH researcher Vito DP Servedio.
getting richer and richer
Therefore, they need money and scientists. “Early investment in emerging areas of research is a key driver of scientific dominance,” he continued. Once a pioneer has established a field or technology, researchers are also more likely to enter this new and stimulating environment. This phenomenon of “getting richer and richer” is the basis for the development of a region’s scientific and technological strength. The mobility of scientists drives the development of scientific disciplines. The question, then, is how many scientists does a region need to employ before other scientists find its environment attractive and join its institution?
no critical mass
The team found no evidence of a minimum number of researchers being employed. Or in technical terms: there is no critical mass to successfully start and develop a new field of research. Here, scientists focus on three scientific areas: semiconductors, embryonic stem cells (ESC) and Internet research.
“In a way, this contradicts the commonly held view that you need a minimum number or critical mass of researchers for a field to be successful. In our study, it’s clear that’s not the case,” says CSH’s Stefan Thurner said.
be a pioneer
In fact, when regions manage to hop on the train early and become pioneers in something, they seem to be successful. “We also found that, as common sense would suggest, regions that adopt new technologies early tend to dominate the corresponding scientific fields in the future,” explains Thurner.
China: an expensive race to catch up
If a region is not a pioneer but still wants to take the lead in a particular field of research, it will have to make extraordinary efforts to catch up. “It is clear that strategic interventions must last decades to compete for leadership in a field, such as in China’s semiconductor science, where the catch-up process began in the late 1970s and is dominant today,” Servedio said .
The researchers developed a model specifically to explain China’s development patterns – how they took over specific fields of research and increased the number of scientists publishing in those fields. “After all, China has some of the fastest growing institutions in the world. Through our modeling, you can clearly see that China is closing the gap with the United States, potentially bearing significant costs, but also demonstrating their ability to effectively engage in high-impact Research. While early movers may have an advantage in some cases, it is not necessarily impossible for latecomers to catch up or even surpass them in science,” says CSH researcher Márcia R. Ferreira.
Three major research areas, millions of data
with the help of aspect In the database, CSH researchers can track scientists (they derive these movements from the scientists’ affiliations) across regions of the world in three fields, namely semiconductors, embryonic stem cell (ESC) and Internet research. “In this way, we analyzed decades of data containing information on millions of publications, 20 million researchers and more than 98,000 research institutions around the world,” Servedio said.
In the field of semiconductor research, they tracked 5,062,639 articles and 2,011,170 researchers in 1,633 regions around the world between 1941 and 2019; in the field of stem cell research, they tracked 1,083,100 articles and 752,575 researchers in 1,161 regions around the world during the same period; In Internet Research, they tracked 246,953 articles and 109,098 researchers from 1,032 regions around the world between 1956 and 2019.
“Our results clearly show that if districts want to become leaders in something, they must get involved early on. Catch-up is possible, but it will come at a huge cost,” Thurner and Servedio said. “Nonetheless, our model of scientific capacity building is a simplification. There are other factors contributing to success in areas we have not been able to explore here, which will be the subject of future analyses,” Ferreira said.