Discoveries: Predictable or Random

Discoveries: Predictable or Random

Roberta Sinatra, along with her group of colleagues, had researched the predictability of discoveries. Sinatra, visiting research assistant professor at Northeastern University and assistant professor at Central European University in Budapest, upon research, said that many paths carry an individual towards making a discovery. Some discoveries are made out of the blue, like  in the case of gravity. Sir Isaac Newton was struck with the concept of gravity when he saw an apple falling. Another such situation is when discoveries are made with the intention of solving a piece of a puzzle. Such discoveries can be termed as “expected discoveries”.


In one of the researches led by Albert-László Barabási, Distinguished Professor of Physics at Northeastern University, he studied the possible factors affecting the path of discovery. He concluded that factors such as visibility, luck, and response have a high impact on a discovery but it does not matter at which stage of one’s career, a creative breakthrough is made. What matters is that the discovery was made. Sinatra, who was the first author on that study, used this to explain the randomness of discoveries.


Sinatra and her colleagues also saw how discoveries were affected by the ecosystem of scientists. They noticed certain biases that exist towards women and other minorities. People while making predictions about future discoveries, consider past discoveries hence it leads to biases and killing novelty. Research papers that belong to less dominant institutions are also less frequently cited, and are therefore, pulled back due to the lack of responses. For this same reason, grants and appointments are also concentrated more in the circle of dominant institutions, than the others.

The research clearly concluded that it is important to maintain a positive ecosystem among scientists as a discovery is not made by an individual, but by an ecosystem as a whole. This involvement of the ecosystem is an important balance, which should be maintained; considering the fact that each discovery does not just affect the particular individual who may be leading the project, but also the surroundings.


Teena Rose Tom

Teena Tom

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