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How many competing papers can be expected for a topic?

Assuming that papers should be competed for, since as in a free market, the competition should lead to better outcomes, right?

So then, when one writes papers, then how many papers may one expect to compete against? And where's the competition in: quality of research outcomes, readability of paper, quality of implementations, ...

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    Your framing of science and scientific publishing as a free market appears weird to me. I don't even know who you consider the competitiors in your framework.
    – Roland
    Nov 22 at 7:36
  • @Roland Weird? Surely the benefits of free market should apply to science. As opposed to, what someone may expect, some "ivory tower". Journals sell rights to read publications, i.e. they're businesses. Universities compete for workforce and students. In full sense, these should be under competition in order to select the "best outcomes" as is the case with free market.
    – mavavilj
    Nov 22 at 8:33
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    Research (generally) is not a product that is sold ... I'm not an economist but you seem to simplify too much.
    – Roland
    Nov 22 at 8:50
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    @mavavilj Some innovation could come from internal motivation (e.g., curiosity), instead of external motivation (e.g., gain recognition and impact). Nov 22 at 8:55
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    @mavavilj Textbooks are not research. There is probably a six digit number of people who at some point might want to read an algebra textbook. In contrast, from what someone working for a big publisher once told me, if a research monograph in math sells 200 copies, it is generally considered a success. And while all undergradute classes are more than covered with textbooks, there is no book on most research topics and for many of them there never will be.
    – mlk
    Nov 22 at 10:32
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How many competing papers can be expected for a topic?

The answer entirely depends on the topic and could be anything between 1 and several tens or hundreds. Generally, there are "hot" and "cold" topics.

Assuming that papers should be competed for, since as in a free market, the competition should lead to better outcomes, right?

The main hurdle that researchers have to face is to get their paper accepted in good venues. This is not a question of competition, but of meeting the standards imposed by the reviewers in the peer review process.

Once that papers are accepted and published, there is somewhat of a competition about impact (often measured in terms of citation counts, a somewhat problematic metric). Generally, one strives to have impact, but a high-quality paper is not guaranteed to have impact. On the contrary, an otherwise mediocre paper can have high impact if it has a unique aspect to it, like being the first to observe something that turns out to be important. Marketing also plays a role in impact.

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