Academic research is a sector where knowledge workers try to innovate – the whole game is trying to push the knowledge frontier outward. Whether or not the system could work better, it certainly does seem to work, generating new and useful knowledge pretty much every day. It’s also a system that’s highly competitive, where thousands of individuals compete with each other for jobs and space in journals.
And yet, despite strong incentives to use any possible edge to generate new and better research, academics are increasingly forgoing the option to work with their local colleagues.
Agrawal, McHale, and Oettl (2015) is a study of the changing nature of collaboration in evolutionary biology. They find the the number of distinct institutions represented on evolutionary biology papers has steadily increased from 1.4 to 2.4 over 1980-2005, while the average distance between coauthors on papers has risen from 350 to 550 miles over the same period.