The success of a scientific article, despite what one might think, depends to a great extent on the same factors that influence the success of any artistic activity: a marriage between arbitration and unfair Darwinian selection.

Suppose that in any scientific article, regardless of the subject to which it refers, X individuals who have worked on the subject are cited. Most of the individuals cited in the article have similar academic merits and levels of popularity. Then another researcher who intends to write another article on the same topic, after reading this first article, will take random citations from a handful of these reference individuals for his bibliography. This is not so strange: many writers and researchers cite references without having read the original work, they only extract what they are interested in from what has already been extracted by the article consulted.

In this way, a third columnist who reads the second work (in turn a bibliographic digest of the first), will take citations from the citations of the authors previously selected by chance in the second article.

Unexpectedly, the handful of authors selected first will start to stand out, receiving more attention from new writers and scholars, as they will be cited in more and more texts.

Now let’s think about how this group of lucky people chosen to be quoted in numerous articles differs from the rest of the uncited individuals in the source article. Chance, the lottery, seems to have been the main engine of its success. And now, thanks to this heaven-sent fame, these leading academics will also be able to continue writing articles and more articles and it will be easier for them to publish their work, also reaching a larger audience. This fact will recursively feed its own success. (For this reason, the already famous can become even more famous than those who start from scratch using the same degree of effort as the latter).

Let us remember that scholars are considered as such above all by the number of times that their work is cited in the works of other authors (not to mention that citations are usually originated by commitment: if he has quoted me, I will quote him). Which casts a daunting shadow towards the dissemination and progress of science.

Because, this kind of inbreeding or arbitrary Darwinian career, finally, causes authors who are not often cited for reasons totally unrelated to the quality of their work, to be forced to leave to start working for the State, for example, losing much of its initial visionary impetus along the way. Because those who received a strong push at the beginning of their academic careers will continue to enjoy constant cumulative advantages throughout their lives..

These mechanisms of random selection and destruction of potentially brilliant authors is inherent in human nature; It is what is called, in sociology, “cumulative advantage”. We can do nothing to correct them, we can only aspire to palliate them and lament all the minds that have been silenced by the inextricable and indomitable psychosocial wanderings that determine success, power, fame and merit, like cosmic caroms.

More information | The Black Swan, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb