Limits...
On disciplinary fragmentation and scientific progress.

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

Bottom Line: 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.

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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Related in: MedlinePlus

The effect of the strength τ of attraction to ground truth on the average number of clusters (A), and the average distance from the ground truth (B) at time point 2,000.In general, the weaker the attraction (higher values of τ) the more clusters the further away. However, most of the variation happens for values of τ between 1 and 20. Error bars represent standard errors of the mean.[R = (0.03; 0.3), α = 0.5, τ = (1 − 100), σ = 0.01, ε = 0.1]
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pone.0118747.g008: The effect of the strength τ of attraction to ground truth on the average number of clusters (A), and the average distance from the ground truth (B) at time point 2,000.In general, the weaker the attraction (higher values of τ) the more clusters the further away. However, most of the variation happens for values of τ between 1 and 20. Error bars represent standard errors of the mean.[R = (0.03; 0.3), α = 0.5, τ = (1 − 100), σ = 0.01, ε = 0.1]

Mentions: Fig. 8 shows how fragmentation and progress are affected by changes in the strength τ of attraction to the ground truth. As expected, we found that fragmentation was weaker and progress faster when the truth had a stronger impact on agents’ research approaches. In fact, the stronger the strength of attraction, the closer the clusters move towards the ground-truth. Being pulled in the same direction, clusters may develop views that are similar enough to lead to social influence between members of different clusters and, eventually, a merging into one big cluster. Within the joint cluster, agents develop a new shared approach and their speed decreases, which again lets them move closer to the ground-truth and increases the chances of merging further. As the merging of clusters is less likely when the influence radius is small, this self-reinforcing dynamics does not obtain when agents have small influence radii. This is why, populations with small influence radii always experience more fragmentation and more limited progress for any value of τ. This result is consistent with what we have shown in the previous sections, and holds true even when the ground-truth is maximally weak, i.e. τ = 100.


On disciplinary fragmentation and scientific progress.

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

The effect of the strength τ of attraction to ground truth on the average number of clusters (A), and the average distance from the ground truth (B) at time point 2,000.In general, the weaker the attraction (higher values of τ) the more clusters the further away. However, most of the variation happens for values of τ between 1 and 20. Error bars represent standard errors of the mean.[R = (0.03; 0.3), α = 0.5, τ = (1 − 100), σ = 0.01, ε = 0.1]
© Copyright Policy
Related In: Results  -  Collection

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

pone.0118747.g008: The effect of the strength τ of attraction to ground truth on the average number of clusters (A), and the average distance from the ground truth (B) at time point 2,000.In general, the weaker the attraction (higher values of τ) the more clusters the further away. However, most of the variation happens for values of τ between 1 and 20. Error bars represent standard errors of the mean.[R = (0.03; 0.3), α = 0.5, τ = (1 − 100), σ = 0.01, ε = 0.1]
Mentions: Fig. 8 shows how fragmentation and progress are affected by changes in the strength τ of attraction to the ground truth. As expected, we found that fragmentation was weaker and progress faster when the truth had a stronger impact on agents’ research approaches. In fact, the stronger the strength of attraction, the closer the clusters move towards the ground-truth. Being pulled in the same direction, clusters may develop views that are similar enough to lead to social influence between members of different clusters and, eventually, a merging into one big cluster. Within the joint cluster, agents develop a new shared approach and their speed decreases, which again lets them move closer to the ground-truth and increases the chances of merging further. As the merging of clusters is less likely when the influence radius is small, this self-reinforcing dynamics does not obtain when agents have small influence radii. This is why, populations with small influence radii always experience more fragmentation and more limited progress for any value of τ. This result is consistent with what we have shown in the previous sections, and holds true even when the ground-truth is maximally weak, i.e. τ = 100.

Bottom Line: 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.

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