The three cultures in American science: publication productivity in physics, history and economics

Gad Yair*, Keith Goldstein, Nir Rotem, Anthony J. Olejniczak

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


In 1959 Lord Charles Percy Snow delivered a scathing critique of the bifurcation of scientists into two cultures: The humanists and the natural scientists. Five decades later, Jerome Kagan retorted that the university has actually evolved into three cultures—adding the social sciences as a distinct discipline with its own language, aims, and commitments. In the present study we evaluate one dimension of the ‘three cultures hypothesis,’ by addressing productivity patterns in physics (the natural sciences), history (the humanities) and economics (the social sciences). To do this, we analyze a unique dataset of faculty productivity in 279 American Ph.D. granting universities, utilizing 15 years of data from 6064 physicists, 5508 historians, and 4960 economists. The results support this major facet of the 'three cultures hypothesis’ by showing that productivity norms are truly different across the disciplines. Physicists publish enormous quantities of papers but very few books. Historians, in contrast, gravitate towards book publishing but author few papers. Productivity norms in economics take a middle ground between physics and history. We found those three disciplinary norms to be invariant across individuals and institutes. As academic administrators worldwide embrace ‘new management’ practices, these findings—speaking for the existence of profound disciplinary differences in productivity—are vital for a sober discussion of the future of universities.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)2967-2980
Number of pages14
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2022

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© 2022, Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, Hungary.


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