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New Book Reveals What Makes Scientists Successful

Professor Dashun Wang provides data-driven insights into how and why science works

In his new book, Professor Dashun Wang, an award-winning scientist at Northwestern University, illuminates the “science of science,” an emerging interdisciplinary field that uses big data and innovative research methods to understand the dynamics and outcomes of scientific careers and the process of research. “The Science of Science” (Cambridge University Press, 2021) offers unique, actionable and data-driven insights to scientists, students, policymakers, and other decision-makers.
“The availability of large-scale data today offers us a unique window into the inner workings of the entire scientific enterprise at an unprecedented level of scale and detail,” said Wang, an associate professor of management and organizations at the Northwestern Kellogg School of Management and (by courtesy) industrial engineering and management sciences at Northwestern Engineering, and director of Kellogg’s Center for Science of Science and Innovation (CSSI). “Harnessing these massive datasets allows us to better understand how scientific careers unfold, the dynamics of science collaborations, and why some projects succeed while others fail, among many other complex, fascinating questions. 

Dashun Wang“By identifying universal and domain-specific patterns,” Wang added, “the science of science not only offers novel insights into the nature of our discipline, but also has the potential to meaningfully improve our work. Gaining a deeper understanding of the precursors of impactful science will help us develop systems and policies that more reliably improve the odds of success for each scientist and science investment, enhancing the prospects of science as a whole.”

Science has played an ever more important role in society, whether in the recent development of COVID tests and vaccines, AI-based innovations like self-driving car technology, or other high-profile applications. So getting the process of science right, and helping scientists make the most of their careers is critical, and may have extremely high social returns. Wang’s book provides data-driven insights, relatable anecdotes, and accessible explanations to help anyone associated with the practice of science understand and contribute to it more deeply.

Insights from “The Science of Science”

  • Science of Careers: When do scientists do their best work and what distinguishes them from one another?
  • Science of Collaboration: What makes some research teams more effective and productive than others, and how to assemble the best team.
  • Science of Impact: Why some scientific ideas turn into runaway successes while others are largely forgotten, and what factors influence the impact of scientific ideas.
  • Outlook: The hottest, most dynamic and influential scientific frontiers, from the use of AI to accelerate science, to human machine partnerships, to understanding failures and countering cognitive bias in science.