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On the predictability of future impact in science

OPEN Scientific reports | 30 Oct 2013

O Penner, RK Pan, AM Petersen, K Kaski and S Fortunato
Abstract
Correctly assessing a scientist’s past research impact and potential for future impact is key in recruitment decisions and other evaluation processes. While a candidate’s future impact is the main concern for these decisions, most measures only quantify the impact of previous work. Recently, it has been argued that linear regression models are capable of predicting a scientist’s future impact. By applying that future impact model to 762 careers drawn from three disciplines: physics, biology, and mathematics, we identify a number of subtle, but critical, flaws in current models. Specifically, cumulative non-decreasing measures like the h-index contain intrinsic autocorrelation, resulting in significant overestimation of their “predictive power”. Moreover, the predictive power of these models depend heavily upon scientists' career age, producing least accurate estimates for young researchers. Our results place in doubt the suitability of such models, and indicate further investigation is required before they can be used in recruiting decisions.
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Concepts
Futurology, Science, Scientific method, Future, Linear regression, Forecasting, Prediction, Regression analysis
MeSH headings
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