There’s a common belief that science shouldn’t try to answer “why” questions. Instead, it should focus on what it’s good at: answering “how” questions. I wondered whether that was really true, so I compared the relative productivity of Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How, and ranked them according to their PubMed publication records. Here are the results:
While this seems to bear out the conventional wisdom – How is more than fivefold ahead of Why – it suggests that Why is not completely unproductive, particularly when compared to Who, What, When, and Where. Indeed, Why’s 83 citations trounce Who’s three and When’s one, and we can only wonder what What and Where (zero citations each) have been up to.
If you’re wondering how How maintains its lead, the key seems to be diversification. Just a peek at the first five of How’s 554 papers indicates an incredible breadth of interests: