Watch out for the weakies!: the O-Ring model in scientific research

Team impact is predicted more by the lower-citation rather than the higher-citation team members, typically centering near the harmonic average of the individual citation indices. Consistent with this finding, teams tend to assemble among individuals with similar citation impact in all fields of science and patenting. In assessing individuals, our index, which accounts for each coauthor, is shown to have substantial advantages over existing measures. First, it more accurately predicts out-of-sample paper and patent outcomes. Second, it more accurately characterizes which scholars are elected to the National Academy of Sciences. Overall, the methodology uncovers universal regularities that inform team organization while also providing a tool for individual evaluation in the team production era.

That is part of the abstract of a new paper by Mohammad Ahmadpoor and Benjamin F. Jones.


Not clear that science and technology progress in linear steps like some advanced piece of manufacturing. If the activities require a network of communication rather than sequential, then teams could more easily bypass weak links.

I don't listen to weakies.

The skills needed to be a high-citation individual are different from the skills needed to run a great team of researchers. The latter largely depends on management skills: identifying and hiring good people, creating an environment where they will succeed, etc.

Management skills are critical in research, but often almost completely ignored in academic hiring and promotion. "Promotion to the level of incompetence" reigns supreme, and it's very common to find dysfunctional research groups led by rock star researchers.

The average citation level of a research group would be solid evidence of the quality of the group's management, I would think.

While "The skills needed to be a high-citation individual are different from the skills needed to run a great team of researchers", quite often those two do correlate. Simply because people get high-citation not through their work, but quite often through heavy collaboration with other best people. And you need a lot a management and political skills to make a group of talented researchers do anything together.

"it's very common to find dysfunctional research groups led by rock star researchers". It's very common everywhere. Science is the same as business, a lot of ideas/people/prototypes just never become viable for mass consumption or as a successful/useful research. You don't look at gas stations and say to yourself "Hey, 80% of those are run like crap. We must change something about this ASAP". But you do look at laboratories and think that. Don't forget, people are people, regardless of their work field. Just because working in a lab requires higher brain/memory capacity, does not suddenly make these people better or somehow more competent in their respective field. 80% of food places are crap, 80% of labs are crap, 80% of anything is crap. But we are still making progress.

I largely agree. However, I do think the incentives and career progression in academia are particularly problematic in terms of developing good management skills.

Sure, but the feeling is mutual. President Captain Bolsonaro supports Mr. Trump. Brazil's Foreign Affairs Minister Mr. Ara├║jo said God sent Trump.
A friend in need is a friend indeed.

Apparently, pro-Trump comments are being deleted by the interns. Sad.

The popular "team" concept is BS. Most of the accomplishment of these "teams" results from the efforts of one or two dedicated individuals. The rest are just along for the ride. In fact, the team environment is a good place for malingerers to pass their time without anyone expecting any real contribution from them. They do just enough to hold their position, hopefully. And some of these place holders are designated leaders.

Shouldnt the Header be, cronies for the win: how citation rings enforce academic nimby?

I am really trying to tie Feynman and the Challenger disaster to this topic and headline somehow, but I guess this might be a two-coffee Cowen for me, and I'm out of coffee.
Can't catch them all, I guess.

The O-ring theory of economic development is a model of economic development put forward by Michael Kremer in 1993,[1] which proposes that tasks of production must be executed proficiently together in order for any of them to be of high value. The key feature of this model is positive assortative matching, whereby people with similar skill levels work together.

The name comes from the 1986 Challenger shuttle disaster, a catastrophe caused by the failure of a single O-ring.

I hope the authors have incorporated previous work on the topic, notably Davis and Gregerman's parse analysis which modeled this exact issue 25 years ago.

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