The Annus Mirabilis paper: years of peak productivity in scientific careers

Gad Yair, Keith Goldstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper defines the ‘miraculous year’ as the most productive year in academics’ scientific careers. It tests the hypothesis that annual productivity is unevenly distributed with a Lotka-like distribution at both individual and group levels. To gain generalizability, we model distributions of annual publication productivity in three independent mini studies. The studies include Israeli star scientists, highly cited physicists, and economists in an elite American university. The findings show that most scientists enjoy a peak annus mirabilis with a minority having a few such peaks. Academic age at which the annus mirabilis takes place gravitates towards the center of a career, especially amongst older scientists. The results support the hypothesis that scientific careers are punctuated by exceptionally productive years. We discuss how administrative constraints may affect levels of productivity. The paper opens up a new empirical domain for further empirical tests of career productivity and calls for policy discussions around the implications of the idea of the annus mirabilis.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)887-902
Number of pages16
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2020


  • Einstein
  • Inequality in science
  • Lotka curve
  • Publication productivity
  • Scientific excellence

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Library and Information Sciences
  • Computer Science Applications
  • General Social Sciences


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