The nearly universal link between the age of past knowledge and tomorrow’s breakthroughs in science and technology: The hotspot

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science Advances  19 Apr 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 4, e1601315
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1601315


Scientists and inventors can draw on an ever-expanding literature for the building blocks of tomorrow’s ideas, yet little is known about how combinations of past work are related to future discoveries. Our analysis parameterizes the age distribution of a work’s references and revealed three links between the age of prior knowledge and hit papers and patents. First, works that cite literature with a low mean age and high age variance are in a citation “hotspot”; these works double their likelihood of being in the top 5% or better of citations. Second, the hotspot is nearly universal in all branches of science and technology and is increasingly predictive of a work’s future citation impact. Third, a scientist or inventor is significantly more likely to write a paper in the hotspot when they are coauthoring than whey they are working alone. Our findings are based on all 28,426,345 scientific papers in the Web of Science, 1945–2013, and all 5,382,833 U.S. patents, 1950–2010, and reveal new antecedents of high-impact science and the link between prior literature and tomorrow’s breakthrough ideas.

  • Social networks
  • Knowledge networks
  • computational social science
  • science of science
  • scientimetrics
  • human performance

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, so long as the resultant use is not for commercial advantage and provided the original work is properly cited.

View Full Text

Stay Connected to Science Advances