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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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Average number of clusters (A), and average distance from ground-truth (B) for each combination of position noise (rows) and angular noise (x-axis within each row).Angular noise is responsible for most of the variation of on both outcome measures, however higher values of position noise attenuate its effect. Error bars represent standard errors of the mean.[R = (0.03; 0.3), α = 0.5, τ = 1, σ = (0 − 0.05), ε = (0 − 0.5)]
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pone.0118747.g007: Average number of clusters (A), and average distance from ground-truth (B) for each combination of position noise (rows) and angular noise (x-axis within each row).Angular noise is responsible for most of the variation of on both outcome measures, however higher values of position noise attenuate its effect. Error bars represent standard errors of the mean.[R = (0.03; 0.3), α = 0.5, τ = 1, σ = (0 − 0.05), ε = (0 − 0.5)]

Mentions: Fig. 7 illustrates how position noise ε and angular noise σ affected fragmentation and progress. The figure shows that increased levels of either form of noise resulted in fewer clusters and views that were closer to the truth. These effects were most pronounced in the simulations with small influence radiuses, because simulated disciplines with large radiuses basically always ended with a global consensus close to the ground truth.


On disciplinary fragmentation and scientific progress.

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

Average number of clusters (A), and average distance from ground-truth (B) for each combination of position noise (rows) and angular noise (x-axis within each row).Angular noise is responsible for most of the variation of on both outcome measures, however higher values of position noise attenuate its effect. Error bars represent standard errors of the mean.[R = (0.03; 0.3), α = 0.5, τ = 1, σ = (0 − 0.05), ε = (0 − 0.5)]
© Copyright Policy
Related In: Results  -  Collection

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

pone.0118747.g007: Average number of clusters (A), and average distance from ground-truth (B) for each combination of position noise (rows) and angular noise (x-axis within each row).Angular noise is responsible for most of the variation of on both outcome measures, however higher values of position noise attenuate its effect. Error bars represent standard errors of the mean.[R = (0.03; 0.3), α = 0.5, τ = 1, σ = (0 − 0.05), ε = (0 − 0.5)]
Mentions: Fig. 7 illustrates how position noise ε and angular noise σ affected fragmentation and progress. The figure shows that increased levels of either form of noise resulted in fewer clusters and views that were closer to the truth. These effects were most pronounced in the simulations with small influence radiuses, because simulated disciplines with large radiuses basically always ended with a global consensus close to the ground truth.

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