Let’s say someone writes an academic paper quoting fifty people who have worked on the subject and provided background materials for his study; assume, for the sake of simplicity, that all fifty are of equal merit. Another researcher working on the exact same subject will randomly cite three of those fifty in his bibliography. Merton showed that many academics cite references without having read the original work; rather, they’ll read a paper and draw their own citations from among its sources. So a third researcher reading the second article selects three of the previously referenced authors for his citations. These three authors will receive cumulatively more and more attention as their names become associated more tightly with the subject at hand. The difference between the winning three and the other members of the original cohort is mostly luck: they were initially chosen not for their greater skill, but simply for the way their names appeared in the prior bibliography. Thanks to their reputations, these successful academics will go on writing papers and their work will be easily accepted for publication. Academic success is partly (but significantly) a lottery.* . . .
Those who got a good push in the beginning of their scholarly careers will keep getting persistent cumulative advantages throughout life. It is easier for the rich to get richer, for the famous to become more famous.
Taleb, Nassim Nicholas (2010-05-04). The Black Swan: Second Edition: The Impact of the Highly Improbable: With a new section: “On Robustness and Fragility” (Kindle Locations 4700-4708, 4715-4716). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.