The effect of novelty on the future impact of scientific grants

Han Zhuang, Daniel E. Acuna

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Government funding agencies and foundations tend to perceive novelty as necessary for scientific impact and hence prefer to fund novel instead of incremental projects. Evidence linking novelty and the eventual impact of a grant is surprisingly scarce, however. Here, we examine this link by analyzing 920,000 publications funded by 170,000 grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) between 2008 and 2016. We use machine learning to quantify grant novelty at the time of funding and relate that measure to the citation dynamics of these publications. Our results show that grant novelty leads to robust increases in citations while controlling for the principal investigator's grant experience, award amount, year of publication, prestige of the journal, and team size. All else held constant, an article resulting from a fully-novel grant would on average double the citations of a fully-incremental grant. We also find that novel grants produce as many articles as incremental grants while publishing in higher prestige journals. Taken together, our results provide compelling evidence supporting NSF, NIH, and many other funding agencies' emphases on novelty.
Original languageUndefined
StatePublished - Nov 7 2019


  • cs.DL

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