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Superstar Extinction

Pierre Azoulay, Joshua Graff Zivin and Jialan Wang

The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 2010, vol. 125, issue 2, 549-589

Abstract: We estimate the magnitude of spillovers generated by 112 academic "superstars" who died prematurely and unexpectedly, thus providing an exogenous source of variation in the structure of their collaborators' coauthorship networks. Following the death of a superstar, we find that collaborators experience, on average, a lasting 5% to 8% decline in their quality-adjusted publication rates. By exploring interactions of the treatment effect with a variety of star, coauthor, and star/coauthor dyad characteristics, we seek to adjudicate between plausible mechanisms that might explain this finding. Taken together, our results suggest that spillovers are circumscribed in idea space, but less so in physical or social space. In particular, superstar extinction reveals the boundaries of the scientific field to which the star contributes—the "invisible college."

Date: 2010
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