Jacob Foster

Assistant Professor
Department of Sociology

"Made to know: science as the social production of collective intelligence"

Thursday, April 28
SSPA 2112
4:00 - 5:00 pm


Institutionalized social learning can lead to cumulative cultural evolution and collective intelligence. Science is perhaps the signature example of this distinctly human strategy. In this talk, I develop a view of science as the social production of collective intelligence. Using data from millions of scientific papers, I illustrate how scientists use social cues to select research problems and show how these heuristics lead to more (and less) efficient discovery. I demonstrate that the fabric of past knowledge, collectively woven from materials, methods, problems, and people, provides a predictable substrate for future discovery. I then show how diverging jargon and interests create “cultural holes” that modulate the flow of ideas between scientific fields. I draw together these results using ideas from computational learning theory to suggest how scientists’ strategies, though objectively adapted to social goals and human limitations, nonetheless support robust collective learning about the natural world.


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