Half-life of knowledge

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

The half-life of knowledge or half-life of facts is the amount of time that has to elapse before half of the knowledge or facts in a particular area is superseded or shown to be untrue. These coined terms belong to the field of quantitative analysis of science known as scientometrics.

These ideas of half-life applied to different fields differ from the concept of half-life in physics in that there is no guarantee that the knowledge or facts in areas of study are declining exponentially. It is unclear that there is any way to establish what constitutes "knowledge" in a particular area, as opposed to mere opinion or theory.

Because scientific knowledge is growing by a factor of ten every 50 years, this means that half of what scientists may have known about a particular subject will be wrong or obsolete in 45 years.[1]

An engineering degree went from having a half life of 35 years in ca. 1930 to about 10 years in 1960.[2]

Donald Hebb estimated the half-life of psychology to be five years.[citation needed]

Coining[edit]

The concept of "half-life of knowledge" is attributed to Fritz Machlup (1962).[3]

For example, Donald Hebb estimated the half-life of psychology to be five years.[citation needed]

The similar concept of a "half-life of facts" was coined by Samuel Arbesman, a Harvard mathematician[4] and scholar at the Kaufmann Foundation.[1]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Bailey, Ronald (2 October 2012). "Half of the Facts You Know Are Probably Wrong". reason.com. Archived from the original on 19 February 2015. Retrieved 19 February 2015. 
  2. ^ Charette, Robert N. "An Engineering Career: Only a Young Person’s Game?" Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers website http://spectrum.ieee.org/riskfactor/computing/it/an-engineering-career-only-a-young-persons-game
  3. ^ Charette, Robert N. "An Engineering Career: Only a Young Person’s Game?" Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers website http://spectrum.ieee.org/riskfactor/computing/it/an-engineering-career-only-a-young-persons-game
  4. ^ R.D.A. (28 November 2012). "The half-life of facts". Retrieved 19 February 2015. 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. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Samuel Arbesman (2012). The Half-life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date. Current Hardcover. ISBN 1-59184-472-X.