The quest for historically impactful science and technology provides invaluable insight into the innovation dynamics of human society, yet many studies are limited to qualitative and small-scale approaches. Here, we investigate scientific evolution through systematic analysis of a massive corpus of digitized English texts between 1800 and 2008. Our analysis reveals great predictability for long-prevailing scientific concepts based on the levels of their prior usage. Interestingly, once a threshold of early adoption rates is passed even slightly, scientific concepts can exhibit sudden leaps in their eventual lifetimes. We developed a mechanistic model to account for such results, indicating that slowly-but-commonly adopted science and technology surprisingly tend to have higher innate strength than fast-and-commonly adopted ones. The model prediction for disciplines other than science was also well verified. Our approach sheds light on unbiased and quantitative analysis of scientific evolution in society, and may provide a useful basis for policy-making.
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