International teams shy away from risky science, Nature Index

International collaborations are extremely common in today’s cutting edge science discoveries. They are popular among scientists because it was claimed that international collaborations among people with different backgrounds can provide new insights and create novel science. However, new findings suggested that, surprisingly, international science projects are highly conventional and do not produce the novelty they were expected to have.
To quantify the novelty of science, Brian Uzzi from Northwestern University and his colleagues studied reference list of roughly four million papers in the Web of Science database. The analysis involved measuring the frequency of paired combinations of article references and comparing the observed frequency to those expected by chance. Unlikely co-occurrences represent a unique recombination of ideas — the nexus where existing knowledge is forged into new ideas. Using several regression techniques, researchers were also able to determine the relationship between the number of countries listed in the author line and measures of novelty, conventionality, and atypicality characterized in reference lists.
The results from this study turned out to be very disappointing. The majority of internationally collaborative science projects were highly conventional and low in novelty. Such projects were expected to fall into the sweet spot of being highly novel and with a strong conventional base, but only very few (6.93%) of them actually did. Researchers also consistently found that the more countries listed on a paper, the higher the conventionality score and the lower the novelty score.
Many factors contributed to the lack of novelty in international collaborations. Those who work at international levels were usually highly reputed scholars. However, those with big reputations work to retain them, rather than ‘make’ them, according to Robert Merton, one of the earliest 'science of science' scholars. This tendency of the big names might lead international science to lean towards conventional rather than ‘risky’ or novel work. Some alternative causes include higher transaction costs, a reliance on information technologies, and the need to use English as a common language.
One of the ways to reverse this trend lies in better judgement of funders. Today, as more elite scientists have reached abroad, funding has followed. However, the findings here suggest there could be losses of creativity and novelty in international research collaboration. Funders might want to look more closely at the composition of the international team, to favor those projects with emerging leaders who seek to push the frontiers of knowledge, those who can form flexible teams, and those who can work across disciplines to recombine knowledge in creative ways.

Oldest tattoo needle found in North America, Journal of Archaeological Science: Report & National Geographic

Recently archaeologists have confirmed that the needles found in Utah 40 years ago was actually a pair of tattooing needles, making them the oldest tattooing needles found in western North America. The artifact is about the size of a pen and its points are formed by a pair of cactus spines. The ink on the tip of the needles dated back to about 2000 years ago. The needle might help researchers understand the history of tattooing and its connection to ancient Native American cultures.

Air pollution kills more people than smoking does, Guardian & PNAS & European Heart Journal

The number of early deaths caused by air pollution is double previous estimates, according to research, meaning toxic air is killing more people than tobacco smoking. According to a research published on PNAS last year and a new research published on the European Heart Journal, outdoor air pollution caused 8.8 million early deaths around the world. Especially, the health damage caused by air pollution in Europe, where the death toll is about 800,000 people per year, is higher than the global average due to its dense population and poor air results in exposure. The studied also indicated that the damage due to pollution particles is not limited to our lungs, and in fact their impact via the bloodstream on heart disease and strokes is responsible for twice as many deaths as respiratory diseases.
The burning of fossil fuels again became the target of criticism. “Since most air pollutants come from the burning of fossil fuels, we need to switch to other sources of energy urgently. When we use clean, renewable energy, we are not just fulfilling the Paris agreement to mitigate the effects of climate change, we could also reduce air pollution-related death rates by up to 55%.” says Prof Jos Lelieveld of the Max-Plank Institute for Chemistry in Mainz.

Image of the week: shockwaves from supersonic jets, NASA

In 1969, the famous Concorde plane took flight for the first time, starting the history of supersonic air travel. The Concorde plane could reach an altitude of 60,000 feet, almost twice the altitude of today’s commercial aircrafts, and most importantly, twice the speed of sound. While the Concorde was one of the greatest engineering marvels from last century, the enormous cost of flying the plane finally led to its retirement in 2003.
However, people have never given up the dream of supersonic air travel, and engineers are now seeking new ways to make it possible with less fuel consumption and noise. This false-colour image shows shockwaves emanating from supersonic US T-38 Talon aircraft, used to train fighter pilots. The image was captured by space-agency staff during a flight at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California.  The data from the imaging system will help aeronautical engineers to design a new generation of ‘quiet’ supersonic aircraft.

Quote of the week: Maybe the Earth is like the ancient tribes in the Amazon. The whole Galaxy knows we are here but they've agreed not to contact us.
ISP Sci. Rev. 16 (2019)
Editor: Rossoneri Jing
Integrated Science Program
Northwestern University

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