Collaborative Progress in Citation Networks

Collaborative Progress in Citation Networks

Rogier De Langhe (Ghent University, Belgium)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 15
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6567-5.ch003

Abstract

Philosophical theories of scientific progress are typically disconnected from citation data because a citation to a paper does not necessarily justify the content of the cited paper. Citation data can however be used to test whether scientific contributions coevolve and as such discriminate indirectly between the two main theories of scientific progress: cumulative and non-cumulative progress. This chapter presents this novel approach. First, agent-based models are used to discover essential differences between both patterns of progress. The systematic exploration they allow of their respective entailments reveals four conflicting empirical predictions. These could in principle be tested against citation data, thus operationalizing two important philosophical conceptions of progress. The proposed approach relies heavily on two recent developments, the use of agent-based modeling in philosophy and the availability of vast citation datasets. The research program it suggests offers a unique opportunity to bridge the gap between descriptions of science and explanations of why it is successful.
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1. One-Process And Two-Process Change

Theory change is often conceived in analogy to biological evolution. . One of the more striking ones is the analogy between one- and two-process scientific change and adaptationist and coevolutionary views of change in evolutionary biology. Popper (1959) held that falsification of theories is analogous to biological evolution: random conjectures and selective refutation, with the standard for refutation itself being objective and independently testable. By abandoning unfit theories, science is a gradual and cumulative process of adaptation to that standard. The evolutionary analogue of the one-process view of scientific change is the “adaptationist” program in biology which explains organisms’ adaptations by reference to the stable environment they inhabit. Just as organisms adapt to an exogenous environment, so do theories adapt to the world which exists independently of our theories about it. The world is, as it were, lying there waiting to be discovered. Analogously, in biology “if evolution is described as the process of adaptation of organisms to niches, then the niches must exist before the species that are to fit them”(Lewontin, 1978, p. 159). In line with this analogy Bird argues that scientific change is like the evolution of a single species to a given environment rather than coevolution of two species because “the results of experimental tests do not change. A good experiment is one that is replicable; it gives the same results whenever performed” (Bird, 2000, p. 212). There is only one process of change: theories can only change if our knowledge about the world changes.1 Progress then resembles the discovery of a fixed landscape. Bird (2000) would agree with the assumption of a fixed landscape because it “captures the idea that in science our theories may change but the features of the world that they respond to are what they are independently of our theories, and are by and large constant over time” (Bird, 2000, p. 213).

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