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Volume 613 Issue 7942, 5 January 2023

Net loss

The past few decades have seen exponential growth in the volume of new scientific and technological knowledge. But, as Russell Funk and his colleagues reveal in this week’s issue, this increase in knowledge has not led to a similar spate of major advances — in fact, several big fields show signs of progress slowing. Analysing data on 45 million papers and 3.9 million patents published in the past six decades, the researchers find that both are becoming less disruptive of the status quo, leading to a web of knowledge that is less vibrant (visualized on the cover by the increasing simplification and washed out look of the threads). The team suggests that the slower rate of disruption might signal a fundamental shift in the nature of science and technology.

Cover image: Holland Royal

This Week

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News in Focus

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  • News & Views

    • Analysis of an invasive brain cancer reveals that networks of tumour cells are linked to small groups of ‘pacemaker’ cells in which levels of calcium ions pulse periodically, driving a signal through the network that causes tumour growth.

      • Benjamin Deneen
      News & Views
    • Cells in a state of arrested growth, called senescence, have been characterized in skeletal muscle in mice. Senescent cells promote inflammation and block regeneration, and thus might induce harmful changes in aged muscle.

      • David J. Glass
      News & Views
    • Estimating the number of deaths attributable to COVID-19 around the world is a complex task — as highlighted by one attempt to measure global excess mortality in 2020 and 2021.

      • Enrique Acosta
      News & Views
    • Ferroelectricity has been found in a superconducting compound. Strong coupling between these two properties enables ferroelectric control of the superconductivity, which could prove useful for quantum devices.

      • Kenji Yasuda
      News & Views
    • An analysis of more than 1,500 field observations has identified a collection of agricultural practices that can improve the use of nitrogen fertilizers — boosting crop yields while reducing environmental pollution.

      • Longlong Xia
      • Xiaoyuan Yan
      News & Views
  • Analysis

    • Msemburi et al. describe how the World Health Organization has estimated the excess mortality associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, by month and for 2020 and 2021, and analyse their estimates across the WHO member states, with 14.83 million global excess deaths estimated.

      • William Msemburi
      • Ariel Karlinsky
      • Jon Wakefield
      Analysis Open Access
  • Articles

    • A study of intracluster light (ICL) in ten high-redshift galaxy clusters finds evidence that gradual stripping may not be the dominant mechanism of ICL formation, but may occur alongside the formation and growth of the brightest cluster galaxies, and/or accretion of preprocessed stars.

      • Hyungjin Joo
      • M. James Jee
    • A study demonstrates full energy–momentum matching, and enhanced interaction, between free electrons and photons through a continuum of flatband resonances, realized in a silicon-on-insulator photonic crystal slab.

      • Yi Yang
      • Charles Roques-Carmes
      • Marin Soljačić
    • A van der Waals crystal, niobium oxide dichloride, with vanishing interlayer electronic coupling and considerable monolayer-like excitonic behaviour in the bulk, as well as strong and scalable second-order optical nonlinearity, is discovered, which enables a high-performance quantum light source.

      • Qiangbing Guo
      • Xiao-Zhuo Qi
      • Andrew T. S. Wee
    • A two-dimensional crystalline polymer of C60, termed graphullerene, is synthesized by chemical vapour transport, and mechanically exfoliated to produce molecularly thin flakes with clean interfaces for potential optoelectronic applications.

      • Elena Meirzadeh
      • Austin M. Evans
      • Xavier Roy
    • A ‘bottom-up’ approach for calculating the rate of organic carbon burial in the global ocean shows larger variability than has been previously estimated, suggesting that the organic carbon cycle acted as positive feedback of past global warming.

      • Ziye Li
      • Yi Ge Zhang
      • Benjamin J. W. Mills
    • A decline in disruptive science and technology over time is reported, representing a substantive shift in science and technology, which is attributed in part to the reliance on a narrower set of existing knowledge.

      • Michael Park
      • Erin Leahey
      • Russell J. Funk
    • The tomato spotted wilt orthotospovirus nonstructural protein NSs interferes with phytohormone signalling in plants to compromise plant defences by interacting with plant TCP21—this effect of the viral protein is counteracted by the plant NLR immune receptor protein Tsw.

      • Jing Chen
      • Yanxiao Zhao
      • Xiaorong Tao
    • The zebrafish segmentation clock drives sequential segmentation of somites by periodically lowering double-phosphorylated Erk and therefore projecting its oscillation on the double-phosphorylated Erk gradient.

      • M. Fethullah Simsek
      • Angad Singh Chandel
      • Ertuğrul M. Özbudak
    • An adipocyte-selective product of the Clstn3 locus (CLSTN3β) facilitates the use of stored triglyceride by limiting lipid droplet (LD) expansion, defining a molecular mechanism that regulates LD form and function to facilitate lipid utilization in thermogenic adipocytes.

      • Kevin Qian
      • Marcus J. Tol
      • Peter Tontonoz
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Amendments & Corrections

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