The concept of peak maths is discussed in a fascinating new paper from the NBER.Harvard’s George Borjas and Notre Dame’ Kirk Doran looked at the productivity of U.S. mathematicians following the collapse of the Soviet Union, which led to the immigration of many former Soviet mathematicians.

You might have expected the influx of mathematicians to produce a golden age, but it didn’t.

Instead US mathematicians were crowded out, publishing fewer articles and taking worse jobs.

Our empirical analysis unambiguously documents that the typical American mathematician whose research agenda most overlapped with that of the Soviets suffered a reduction in productivity after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Based solely on the pre-‐ 1992 age-‐output profile of American mathematicians, we find that the actual post-‐1992 output of mathematicians whose work most overlapped with that of the Soviets and hence could have benefited more from the influx of Soviet ideas is far below what would have been expected. The data also reveal that these American mathematicians became much more likely to switch institutions; that the switch entailed a move to a lower quality institution; that many of these American mathematicians ceased publishing relatively early in their career; and that they became much less likely to publish a “home run” after the arrival of the Soviet émigrés. **Although total output declined for the pre-‐existing group of American mathematicians, the gap was “filled in” by the contribution of Soviet émigrés. There is no evidence, however, that there was a substantial increase in the size of the American mathematics pie as a result of the Soviet influx.**

This bottleneck suggests a basic problem with academia, which is supposed to encourage unlimited production of new ideas.

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