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On disciplinary fragmentation and scientific progress.

Balietti S, Mäs M, Helbing D - PLoS ONE (2015)

Bottom Line: Strikingly, there is no effect in the opposite causal direction.What is more, our results shows that at the heart of the mechanisms driving scientific progress we find (i) social interactions, and (ii) peer disagreement.We discuss model's implications for the design of social institutions fostering interdisciplinarity and participation in science.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: Professorship of Computational Social Science, ETH Zurich, Switzerland.

ABSTRACT
Why are some scientific disciplines, such as sociology and psychology, more fragmented into conflicting schools of thought than other fields, such as physics and biology? Furthermore, why does high fragmentation tend to coincide with limited scientific progress? We analyzed a formal model where scientists seek to identify the correct answer to a research question. Each scientist is influenced by three forces: (i) signals received from the correct answer to the question; (ii) peer influence; and (iii) noise. We observed the emergence of different macroscopic patterns of collective exploration, and studied how the three forces affect the degree to which disciplines fall apart into divergent fragments, or so-called "schools of thought". We conducted two simulation experiments where we tested (A) whether the three forces foster or hamper progress, and (B) whether disciplinary fragmentation causally affects scientific progress and vice versa. We found that fragmentation critically limits scientific progress. Strikingly, there is no effect in the opposite causal direction. What is more, our results shows that at the heart of the mechanisms driving scientific progress we find (i) social interactions, and (ii) peer disagreement. In fact, fragmentation is increased and progress limited if the simulated scientists are open to influence only by peers with very similar views, or when within-school diversity is lost. Finally, disciplines where the scientists received strong signals from the correct answer were less fragmented and experienced faster progress. We discuss model's implications for the design of social institutions fostering interdisciplinarity and participation in science.

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Possible explanations for the correlation of scientific progress and fragmentation.Each arrow represents one of the causal relationships that we study.
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pone.0118747.g001: Possible explanations for the correlation of scientific progress and fragmentation.Each arrow represents one of the causal relationships that we study.

Mentions: Here, we study the question why disciplinary fragmentation and limited scientific progress appear to coincide often. Fig. 1 illustrates three possible causal processes that are able to explain this observation. First, progress might causally affect fragmentation, which is illustrated by Arrow 1 in the figure. For instance, it is is possible that the natural sciences are less fragmented into opposing schools because they have developed a scientific consensus very early in their history [5]. Second, as suggested by Arrow 2, a high degree of fragmentation might slow down scientific progress, for instance because fragmentation hampers the diffusion of ideas and insights [5]. This is in line with the position held by philosopher of science T. Kuhn, according to whom the simultaneous co-existence of opposite schools of thought is symptomatic for a pre-paradigmatic science. In this state, the lack of shared fundamentals is a concrete obstacle to collective progress [14]. Third, fragmentation and progress might not influence each other, but there might be other variables that affect both outcomes (see Arrows 3a and 3b). For instance, scarcity of public funding might not only slow down progress but also further increase competition between scientists and hamper their willingness to interact with competing research teams, which in turn fosters the formation of distinct clusters [15].


On disciplinary fragmentation and scientific progress.

Balietti S, Mäs M, Helbing D - PLoS ONE (2015)

Possible explanations for the correlation of scientific progress and fragmentation.Each arrow represents one of the causal relationships that we study.
© Copyright Policy
Related In: Results  -  Collection

License
Show All Figures
getmorefigures.php?uid=PMC4366147&req=5

pone.0118747.g001: Possible explanations for the correlation of scientific progress and fragmentation.Each arrow represents one of the causal relationships that we study.
Mentions: Here, we study the question why disciplinary fragmentation and limited scientific progress appear to coincide often. Fig. 1 illustrates three possible causal processes that are able to explain this observation. First, progress might causally affect fragmentation, which is illustrated by Arrow 1 in the figure. For instance, it is is possible that the natural sciences are less fragmented into opposing schools because they have developed a scientific consensus very early in their history [5]. Second, as suggested by Arrow 2, a high degree of fragmentation might slow down scientific progress, for instance because fragmentation hampers the diffusion of ideas and insights [5]. This is in line with the position held by philosopher of science T. Kuhn, according to whom the simultaneous co-existence of opposite schools of thought is symptomatic for a pre-paradigmatic science. In this state, the lack of shared fundamentals is a concrete obstacle to collective progress [14]. Third, fragmentation and progress might not influence each other, but there might be other variables that affect both outcomes (see Arrows 3a and 3b). For instance, scarcity of public funding might not only slow down progress but also further increase competition between scientists and hamper their willingness to interact with competing research teams, which in turn fosters the formation of distinct clusters [15].

Bottom Line: Strikingly, there is no effect in the opposite causal direction.What is more, our results shows that at the heart of the mechanisms driving scientific progress we find (i) social interactions, and (ii) peer disagreement.We discuss model's implications for the design of social institutions fostering interdisciplinarity and participation in science.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: Professorship of Computational Social Science, ETH Zurich, Switzerland.

ABSTRACT
Why are some scientific disciplines, such as sociology and psychology, more fragmented into conflicting schools of thought than other fields, such as physics and biology? Furthermore, why does high fragmentation tend to coincide with limited scientific progress? We analyzed a formal model where scientists seek to identify the correct answer to a research question. Each scientist is influenced by three forces: (i) signals received from the correct answer to the question; (ii) peer influence; and (iii) noise. We observed the emergence of different macroscopic patterns of collective exploration, and studied how the three forces affect the degree to which disciplines fall apart into divergent fragments, or so-called "schools of thought". We conducted two simulation experiments where we tested (A) whether the three forces foster or hamper progress, and (B) whether disciplinary fragmentation causally affects scientific progress and vice versa. We found that fragmentation critically limits scientific progress. Strikingly, there is no effect in the opposite causal direction. What is more, our results shows that at the heart of the mechanisms driving scientific progress we find (i) social interactions, and (ii) peer disagreement. In fact, fragmentation is increased and progress limited if the simulated scientists are open to influence only by peers with very similar views, or when within-school diversity is lost. Finally, disciplines where the scientists received strong signals from the correct answer were less fragmented and experienced faster progress. We discuss model's implications for the design of social institutions fostering interdisciplinarity and participation in science.

Show MeSH
Related in: MedlinePlus