We make use of information provided in the titles and abstracts of over half a million publications that were published by the American Physical Society during the past 119 years. By identifying all unique words and phrases and determining their monthly usage patterns, we obtain quantifiable insights into the trends of physics discovery from the end of the 19th century to today. We show that the magnitudes of upward and downward trends yield heavy-tailed distributions, and that their emergence is due to the Matthew effect. This indicates that both the rise and fall of scientific paradigms is driven by robust principles of self-organization. Data also confirm that periods of war decelerate scientific progress, and that the later is very much subject to globalization.
Self-organization of progress across the century of physics