Research Press Release

Social sciences: Smaller science teams produce new ideas


February 14, 2019

Smaller teams tend to produce new ideas and concepts, whereas larger teams tend to develop existing ones, according to an analysis of more than 65 million papers, patents and software products, published online this week in Nature.

In many areas of science and technology, large-team science is on the rise. This joining of forces has accelerated major scientific and technological advances that would have been difficult to achieve without such collective resources and expertise. However, whether there are systematic differences in the scientific output produced by small and large teams is not well understood.

James Evans and colleagues examined teamwork from 1954-2014 through an analysis of millions of papers, patents, and software products. Using a metric to determine how a paper or product builds on previous work, the authors found that across this time period smaller teams of one to ten people tend to disrupt science and technology with new ideas and concepts. By contrast, larger teams tend to develop existing ideas.

They conclude that both small and large teams are essential to a flourishing ecology of science and technology.


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