A key decision in scientific work is whether to build on novel or well-established ideas. Because exploiting new ideas is often harder than more conventional science, novel work can be especially dependent on interactions with colleagues, the training environment, and ready access to potential collaborators. Location may thus influence the tendency to pursue work that is close to the edge of the scientific frontier in the sense that it builds on recent ideas. We calculate for each nation its position relative to the edge of the scientific frontier by measuring its propensity to build on relatively new ideas in biomedical research. Text analysis of 20 + million publications shows that the United States and South Korea have the highest tendencies for novel science. China has become a leader in favoring newer ideas when working with basic science ideas and research tools, but is still slow to adopt new clinical ideas. Many locations remain far behind the leaders in terms of their tendency to work with novel ideas, indicating that the world is far from flat in this regard.
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I thank Jay Bhattacharya, Bruce Weinberg, Partha Bhattacharyya, Richard Freeman, Horatiu Rus, Joel Blit, David Autor, Larry Smith and Peter Tu for discussions. I acknowledge financial support from the National Institute on Aging grant P01-AG039347.
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