90% of all scientists in history are currently alive

More and more evidence is that we are attending a technological hyperaceleration, that the singularity is closer than ever and that, thanks to the exponential evolution of technological evolution in many of its fields (such as Moore's law), right now we are about to begin giant steps (it should be remembered that the first steps in an exponential progression are very slow, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32 ... but at some point, the changes are millions to billions).

This technological change is also contributing to the fact that more and more people are working for it, more and more people connect to the internet, there is more 2.0 collaboration, more access to information and even training. And we must not forget that currently 90% of all scientists that have existed throughout history are alive.

This statistic has another reading: the great advances that we have seen in the last two hundred years are only the tip of the iceberg of everything that will happen in just one or two decades.

It is evident that exponential growth cannot last forever, and at some point maybe it stops, but that idea has arisen several times throughout the twentieth century and has not yet been fulfilled: for example, David Goodstein, a Caltech physicist, gave a speech in 1994 arguing that we had reached the "Big Crunch" and that scientific progress would not continue to accelerate.

Three factors that double

In an article written by Eric Gastfriend, which is much more optimistic about the progress of science, brings together three indicators of the growth of science: the number of doctorates granted per year, the number of patents granted, and the number of articles published, as shown in the following graph :

The graph shows that the United States grew exponentially until 1971, when it began to stabilize. But in the 80s, with Deng Xiaoping In the post following the Cultural Revolution, China begins to take over, so that the total world production of doctorates continues to grow exponentially. In 1961, Solla derek Price, the father of the Scientometrics (that is, the science that studies science), determined that the number of scientists doubles more or less every 15 years. However, the data shows that since 1961, this pace has slowed slightly, with doubling every 18 years.

As can be said by taking a quick look at the following graph, the growth of patents has also remained exponential. The growth rate is similar to that of doctorates, with a doubling more or less every 19 years since 1961.

If we take a look at the publication rate of scientific articles, based on the data provided by Lutz Bornmann and Rüdiger Mutz in a paper entitled Growth rates of modern science: A bibliometric analysis based on the number of publications and cited references, it is confirmed also the exponential growth of science: since the second half of the twentieth century, the number of articles published every year has doubled every 9 years.

Do we really grow so much?

All these data obviously do not indisputably indicate that science grows exponentially. For example, it could be argued that science is increasingly complex, requiring more collaborative effort and, consequently, more scientific or more studies does not necessarily mean faster progress.

However, there are compensatory features to consider: now science is more connected to each other than ever: they are not isolated disciplines of isolated scientists, but advances in computing influence biotechnology advances, for example. Never before have we had so many people whose sole purpose at work is to better understand how the world works, but much less have we ever had them so well connected to each other. All of which surely brings us closer to that parable about wheat grains and chess escapes and our natural inability to understand the geometric progression:

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