Quantifying the Evolution of Individual Scientific Impact
Despite the frequent use of numerous quantitative indicators to gauge the professional impact of a scientist, little is known about how scientific impact emerges and evolves in time. Here, we quantify the changes in impact and productivity throughout a career in science, finding that impact, as measured by influential publications, is distributed randomly within a scientist's sequence of publications. This random-impact rule allows us to formulate a stochastic model that uncouples the effects of productivity, individual ability, and luck and unveils the existence of universal patterns governing the emergence of scientific success. The model assigns a unique individual parameter Q to each scientist, which is stable during a career, and it accurately predicts the evolution of a scientist's impact, from the h-index to cumulative citations, and independent recognitions, such as prizes.