The year 2023 had barely begun when scientists got some jolting news. On Jan. 4, a paper appeared in Nature claiming that disruptive scientific findings have been waning since 1945. An accompanying graph showed all fields on a steep downhill slide.

Scientists took this as an affront. The New York Times interpreted the study to mean that scientists aren’t producing as many "real breakthroughs” or "intellectual leaps” or "pioneering discoveries.” That seems paradoxical when each year brings a new crop of exciting findings. In the 12 months following that paper, scientists have listened to the close encounters between supermassive black holes, demonstrated the power of new weight loss drugs and brought to market life-changing gene therapies for sickle cell disease.

What the authors of the January paper measured was a changing pattern in the way papers were cited. They created an index of disruptiveness that measured how much a finding marked a break with the past. A more disruptive paper would be cited by many future papers while previous papers in the same area would be cited less — presumably because they were rendered obsolete. This pattern, they found, has been on a decades-long decline.