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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The half-life of facts

The Q&A: Samuel Arbesman
Nov 28th 2012, from The Economist

IN PRIMARY school Babbage learned that there were nine planets in the solar system. None were known to exist outside it. Since then, astronomers have spotted over 800 planets around other stars (and thousands more "candidates") and demoted Pluto to a mere "dwarf planet". Even a cursory glance at other fields reveals similar patterns.

Samuel Arbesman, a mathematician at Harvard, calls this "The Half-life of Facts", the title of his new book. In it he explains that this churn of knowledge is like radioactive decay: you cannot predict which individual fact is going to succumb to it, but you can know how long it takes for half the facts in a discipline to become obsolete. Such quantitative analysis of science has become known as scientometrics. We talked to Dr Arbesman about how knowledge changes over time, and what this means for the way people consume information.

What is scientometrics? Read about clicking here >>>

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