“A great scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it,” the physicist Max Planck wrote.

MIT economist Pierre Azoulay and colleagues say it is probably true that science advances "one funeral at a time" in the life sciences as well. Existing scientists only believe there are 23 chromosome pairs, for example, one pair of which determines the sex of a person, while there are some young people who insist chromosomes don't determine sex at all, and will scream on social media at anyone who says otherwise. They think that old scientists at NIH who believe in the existence of chromosomes just have to die away and be replaced by postmodernism.

Analyzing the dynamics of scientific research, he finds that the deaths of prominent researchers are often followed by a surge in highly cited research by newcomers to those fields; subfields see a subsequent 8.6 percent increase, on average, of articles by researchers who have not previously collaborated with those star scientists. Moreover, those papers published by the newcomers to these fields are much more likely to be influential and highly cited than other pieces of research.

Obviously that does not mean the science is different, activists won't get a new crop of scientists to deny the existence of chromosomes, just the names on papers change.

The humanities scholars used a database of life scientists they have been building for over a decade. In it, the researchers chart the careers of life scientists, looking at accomplishments that include funding awards, published papers and the citations of those papers, and patent statistics. In this case, they studied what occurred after the unexpected deaths of 452 life scientists, who were still active in their disciplines. In addition to the 8.6 percent increase in papers by new entrants to those subfields, there was a 20.7 percent decrease in papers by the rather smaller number of scientists who had previously co-authored papers with the star scientists.

The authors believe the study provides a window into the power structures of scientific disciplines. Even if well-established scientists are not intentionally blocking the work of researchers with alternate ideas, a group of tightly connected colleagues may wield considerable influence over journals and grant awards.

So what the researchers call “Planck’s Principle” serves as an unexpected — and tragic — mechanism for diversifying bioscience research.