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The Annus Mirabilis paper: years of peak productivity in scientific careers

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This paper defines the ‘miraculous year’ as the most productive year in academics’ scientific careers. It tests the hypothesis that annual productivity is unevenly distributed with a Lotka-like distribution at both individual and group levels. To gain generalizability, we model distributions of annual publication productivity in three independent mini studies. The studies include Israeli star scientists, highly cited physicists, and economists in an elite American university. The findings show that most scientists enjoy a peak annus mirabilis with a minority having a few such peaks. Academic age at which the annus mirabilis takes place gravitates towards the center of a career, especially amongst older scientists. The results support the hypothesis that scientific careers are punctuated by exceptionally productive years. We discuss how administrative constraints may affect levels of productivity. The paper opens up a new empirical domain for further empirical tests of career productivity and calls for policy discussions around the implications of the idea of the annus mirabilis.

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  1. We concentrate on annual productivity in terms of work output, simply measured by number of publications. We cannot estimate ‘novelty’ or ‘impact’ in this context. We devote some thoughts about the latter in the “Discussion”.

  2. We cannot devote space for the related literature concerning artistic age and creativity, or with life cycle effects on quality of work in painting, poetry, literature or film (for an example see Galeson 2006). We are not concerned with quality but with the quantity of scientific outputs (i.e., number of publications per year).

  3. Due to privacy regulations we cannot provide the name of that university. Suffice to say that it ranks at the top ten institutions in world rankings.

  4. Israel mandates retirement for faculty at age 68, though universities allow exceptional scientists to maintain research labs with reduced support.

  5. For those with multiple years with an equal max number of publications, we used their age at their first year with the max for the regression.



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Correspondence to Gad Yair.

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Yair, G., Goldstein, K. The Annus Mirabilis paper: years of peak productivity in scientific careers. Scientometrics 124, 887–902 (2020).

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