Science of science

BACKGROUND: The increasing availability of digital data on scholarly inputs and outputs—from research funding, productivity, and collaboration to paper citations and scientist mobility—offers unprecedented opportunities to explore the structure and evolution of science. The science of science (SciSci) offers a quantitative understanding of the interactions among scientific agents across diverse geographic and temporal scales: It provides insights into the conditions underlying creativity and the genesis of scientific discovery, with the ultimate goal of developing tools and policies that have the potential to accelerate science. In the past decade, SciSci has benefited from an influx of natural, computational, and social scientists who together have developed big data–based capabilities for empirical analysis and generative modeling that capture the unfolding of science, its institutions, and its workforce. The value proposition of SciSci is that with a deeper understanding of the factors that drive successful science, we can more effectively address environmental, societal, and technological problems. ADVANCES: Science can be described as a complex, self-organizing, and evolving network of scholars, projects, papers, and ideas. This representation has unveiled patterns characterizing the emergence of new scientific fields through the study of collaboration networks and the path of impactful discoveries through the study of citation networks. Microscopic models have traced the dynamics of citation accumulation, allowing us to predict the future impact of individual papers. SciSci has revealed choices and trade-offs that scientists face as they advance both their own careers and the scientific horizon. For example, measurements indicate that scholars are risk-averse, preferring to study topics related to their current expertise, which constrains the potential of future discoveries. Those willing to break this pattern engage in riskier careers but become more likely to make major breakthroughs. Overall, the highest-impact science is grounded in conventional combinations of prior work but features unusual combinations. Last, as the locus of research is shifting into teams, SciSci is increasingly focused on the impact of team research, finding that small teams tend to disrupt science and technology with new ideas drawing on older and less prevalent ones. In contrast, large teams tend to develop recent, popular ideas, obtaining high, but often short-lived, impact. OUTLOOK: SciSci offers a deep quantitative understanding of the relational structure between scientists, institutions, and ideas because it facilitates the identification of fundamental mechanisms responsible for scientific discovery. These interdisciplinary data-driven efforts complement contributions from related fields such as sciento-metrics and the economics and sociology of science. Although SciSci seeks long-standing universal laws and mechanisms that apply across various fields of science, a fundamental challenge going forward is accounting for undeniable differences in culture, habits, and preferences between different fields and countries. This variation makes some cross-domain insights difficult to appreciate and associated science policies difficult to implement. The differences among the questions, data, and skills specific to each discipline suggest that further insights can be gained from domain-specific SciSci studies, which model and identify opportunities adapted to the needs of individual research fields.

Publication Date:
May 13 2018
Date Submitted:
Jul 01 2019
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 Record created 2019-07-01, last modified 2019-07-24

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