I sent out the article to members of my current and former research group, because last year we'd spent a quarter of our brownbag on classics of the -ology literature. Gainfully employed RaftWoman just wrote back:
"It makes you wonder why there hasn't been much in the way of 'classic'papers published in the last 20 years. We all have our favorite papers,& there's certainly been some very good & notable papers in recentyears, but are we getting too specialized for future classics to emerge?
I think you could extend this topic (albeit w/ some modifications) toinclude politicians. Will we ever get really good leaders like Kennedy &Martin Luther King?"
While RaftWoman's take on the subject is thought provoking, my take is a bit different. For one thing, a paper has to have a certain shelf life before it can accumulate the number of citations needed to break into the top ranked paper. For another, I would guess that many truly outstanding (dare I say revolutionary) papers are not immediatelyaccepted by the scientific community. Only when their conclusions are borne out in other studies do they gain the acceptance of "that's just the way the world works." At that point, I would guess that the number of citations starts to climb dramatically as a paper gets cited as introductory material to newer studies. But all of that takes time. My guess is at least 10 years.