The Jacob Marschak Interdisciplinary Colloquium on Mathematics in the Behavioral Sciences at UCLA


On the shoulders of giants? Science, social learning, and …

Speaker: Jacob G. Foster, Assistant Professor of Sociology, UCLA

Host: Aaron Panofsky, Associate Professor of Public Policy, Sociology, and Institute for Society and Genetics, UCLA

Institutionalized social learning leads to cumulative cultural evolution and collective intelligence. Science is perhaps the signature example of this distinctly human strategy. I develop a view of science as social learning. 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. The fabric of past knowledge, collectively woven from materials, methods, problems, and people, provides a predictable substrate for future discovery, while diverging jargon and interests create “cultural holes” that modulate the flow of ideas between scientific fields. Formal theories of learning and cultural evolution can offer new insight on old puzzles in the history and sociology of science. Ultimately, the “science of science” requires us to see science as a complex system, its evolution profoundly shaped by the way ideas are distributed across people and places—and by the institutions that train scientists and direct their attention and activities.

… collective intelligence

Jacob G. Foster is a computational sociologist interested in the evolution and population dynamics of ideas. He blends network analysis, complex systems thinking, and probabilistic modeling with the qualitative insights of the science studies literature to probe the strategies, preferences, and social processes that shape the production and persistence of scientific ideas. He develops formal models of the evolutionary dynamics of ideas and institutions. After studying mathematical physics at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, he received his Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Calgary and was a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Sociology at the University of Chicago. He is a co-PI of the Metaknowledge Research Network, funded by the John Templeton Foundation. He has published or forthcoming work in Science, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Sociological Science, Social Networks, and American Sociological Review.