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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The effects of fragmentation on progress.At the beginning of the simulation agents were randomly preassigned to c = (1..15) clusters. Each group of agent was then placed at a fixed distance from the ground truth, and equidistant from the neighboring groups. We varied the distance between 0.2 and 1 in steps of 0.05 units for a small radius of interaction, and between 1.4892 and 2.2892 for a large radius of interaction. Graph shows the time necessary to 75% of the agents to end up in a radius of 0.05 units from truth. Simulations were stopped after 20,000 iterations. In general, a clustered field takes longer to build consensus, however the relationship is much more marked when interaction radius is small. On top of this, if also social influence is also weak, e.g. α = 0.01, reaching a consensus in proximity of the truth becomes virtually impossible. [R = (0.03, 0.3), α = (0.01, 0.5, 0.99), τ = 1, σ = 0.01, ε = 0.1]
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pone.0118747.g010: The effects of fragmentation on progress.At the beginning of the simulation agents were randomly preassigned to c = (1..15) clusters. Each group of agent was then placed at a fixed distance from the ground truth, and equidistant from the neighboring groups. We varied the distance between 0.2 and 1 in steps of 0.05 units for a small radius of interaction, and between 1.4892 and 2.2892 for a large radius of interaction. Graph shows the time necessary to 75% of the agents to end up in a radius of 0.05 units from truth. Simulations were stopped after 20,000 iterations. In general, a clustered field takes longer to build consensus, however the relationship is much more marked when interaction radius is small. On top of this, if also social influence is also weak, e.g. α = 0.01, reaching a consensus in proximity of the truth becomes virtually impossible. [R = (0.03, 0.3), α = (0.01, 0.5, 0.99), τ = 1, σ = 0.01, ε = 0.1]

Mentions: We measured scientific progress in the simulated disciplines in terms of the time necessary to achieve a stable state of consensus on the ground truth, where 75 percent of the agents had adopted a view that deviated not more than 0.05 units from the ground truth. We terminated all simulations after twenty thousand iterations. In case some runs did not reach a state where 75 percent of the agents agreed on a view close to the ground truth within this time frame, we set our outcome measure to the value of 20,000. This happened mainly under one experimental condition, namely when the influence radius R was small and the strength of social influence α was very weak (see Fig. 10). As a consequence, we are confident that the decision to terminate these simulations did not alter our results.


On disciplinary fragmentation and scientific progress.

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

The effects of fragmentation on progress.At the beginning of the simulation agents were randomly preassigned to c = (1..15) clusters. Each group of agent was then placed at a fixed distance from the ground truth, and equidistant from the neighboring groups. We varied the distance between 0.2 and 1 in steps of 0.05 units for a small radius of interaction, and between 1.4892 and 2.2892 for a large radius of interaction. Graph shows the time necessary to 75% of the agents to end up in a radius of 0.05 units from truth. Simulations were stopped after 20,000 iterations. In general, a clustered field takes longer to build consensus, however the relationship is much more marked when interaction radius is small. On top of this, if also social influence is also weak, e.g. α = 0.01, reaching a consensus in proximity of the truth becomes virtually impossible. [R = (0.03, 0.3), α = (0.01, 0.5, 0.99), τ = 1, σ = 0.01, ε = 0.1]
© Copyright Policy
Related In: Results  -  Collection

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getmorefigures.php?uid=PMC4366147&req=5

pone.0118747.g010: The effects of fragmentation on progress.At the beginning of the simulation agents were randomly preassigned to c = (1..15) clusters. Each group of agent was then placed at a fixed distance from the ground truth, and equidistant from the neighboring groups. We varied the distance between 0.2 and 1 in steps of 0.05 units for a small radius of interaction, and between 1.4892 and 2.2892 for a large radius of interaction. Graph shows the time necessary to 75% of the agents to end up in a radius of 0.05 units from truth. Simulations were stopped after 20,000 iterations. In general, a clustered field takes longer to build consensus, however the relationship is much more marked when interaction radius is small. On top of this, if also social influence is also weak, e.g. α = 0.01, reaching a consensus in proximity of the truth becomes virtually impossible. [R = (0.03, 0.3), α = (0.01, 0.5, 0.99), τ = 1, σ = 0.01, ε = 0.1]
Mentions: We measured scientific progress in the simulated disciplines in terms of the time necessary to achieve a stable state of consensus on the ground truth, where 75 percent of the agents had adopted a view that deviated not more than 0.05 units from the ground truth. We terminated all simulations after twenty thousand iterations. In case some runs did not reach a state where 75 percent of the agents agreed on a view close to the ground truth within this time frame, we set our outcome measure to the value of 20,000. This happened mainly under one experimental condition, namely when the influence radius R was small and the strength of social influence α was very weak (see Fig. 10). As a consequence, we are confident that the decision to terminate these simulations did not alter our results.

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