Reconceptualizing Stars: Scientist Helpfulness and Peer Performance

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It is surprising that the prevailing performance taxonomy for scientists (star versus nonstar) focuses only on individual output and ignores social behavior, because innovation is often characterized as a communal process. To develop a deeper understanding of the mechanisms by which scientists influence the productivity of others, I expand the traditional taxonomy of scientists that focuses solely on productivity and add a second, social dimension: helpfulness to others. Using a combination of academic paper publications and citations to capture scientist productivity and the receipt of academic paper acknowledgments to measure helpfulness, I examine the change in publishing output of the coauthors of 149 scientists that die. Coauthors of highly helpful scientists that die experience a decrease in output quality but not output quantity. Meanwhile, the deaths of high productivity scientists that are not highly helpful do not influence their coauthors' output. In addition, scientists who are helpful with conceptual feedback (critique and advice) have a larger impact on the performance of their coauthors than scientists who provide help with material access, scientific tools, or technical work. Within the context of evaluating scientific productivity, it may be time to update our conceptualization of a “star.”

This paper was accepted by Lee Fleming, entrepreneurship and innovation.

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