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On the Statistics of Individual Variations of Productivity in Research Laboratories

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1 Author(s)
Shockley, William ; Shockley Semiconductor Lab. of Beckman Instr., Inc., Mountain View, Calif.

It is well-known that some workers in scientific research laboratories are enormously more creative than others. If the number of scientific publications is used as a measure of productivity, it is found that some individuals create new science at a rate at least fifty times greater than others. Thus differences in rates of scientific production are much bigger than differences in the rates of performing simpler acts, such as the rate of running the mile, or the number of words a man can speak per minute. On the basis of statistical studies of rates of publication, it is found that it is more appropriate to consider not simply the rate of publication but its logarithm. The logarithm appears to have a normal distribution over the population of typical research laboratories. The existence of a "log-normal distribution" suggests that the logarithm of the rate of production is a manifestation of some fairly fundamental mental attribute. The great variation in rate of production from one individual to another can be explained on the basis of simplified models of the mental processes concerned. The common feature in the models is that a large number of factors are involved so that small changes in each, all in the same direction, may result in a very large change in output. For example, the number of ideas a scientist can bring into awareness at one time may control his ability to make an invention and his rate of invention may increase very rapidly with this number.

Published in:

Proceedings of the IRE  (Volume:45 ,  Issue: 3 )