Social and cognitive patterns in science: An evolutionary approach to explore mechanisms of cumulative advantages and knowledge accumulation
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Introduction: The Matthew effect is a cumulative advantage mechanism in the scientific system. This implies that successful scientists have an increased chance to become more successful, as they generally have gained more recognition, easier access to resources and funding, increased productivity, and are more likely to have their articles published. High status scientists have accrued power and influence on the scientific search regimes. Science is found to comprise strong social hierarchies. As the spread of knowledge is affected by social status and cognitive similarity, the interest of this exploratory research is to examine the relation between social inequalities and cognitive inequalities within scientific fields over time. Cognitive inequality implies that the focus of research is unevenly distributed over the subtopics of a scientific field. Literature: Cumulative advantage mechanisms are linked to evolutionary economics. It is argued that scientists are subjected to selection pressures and seek to provide contributions to the scientific field as success in order to ‘survive’. Contributions are considered novel and valuable knowledge combinations, which are retained also by other scientists as such combinations have proven to be successful. Additionally, the scientists who successfully contributed will receive recognition, which increases their chances for survival. Selection pressures urge scientists to avoid taking risks, which implies that they stick close to previous successes, such as contributions of highly recognised scientists or contributions with which they have been recognised. It is therefore hypothesized that scientific fields show an increase in social inequality and cognitive inequality over time, and that the increase of inequality differs for the amount of selection pressures present in a specific field. Method: Four scientific fields with different selection pressures are compared based on publication data from articles published between 1980 - 2012 with an increment of two years. The inequality of citations among scientists, articles and keywords is calculated over the years using the Gini coefficient. This also applies to the inequality of productivity. Additionally, the statistics of the collaboration networks among scientists and keyword co-occurrences per year are calculated and compared. Results: All fields show increasing inequalities in the social and cognitive domain. Fields have sublinear correlations of inequality with the number of annual publications. Conclusion/Discussion: The annual productivity of the field showed the strongest correlations with both social and cognitive inequality. Each scientific field showed distinct inequality patterns. It is discussed how inequality and cumulative advantage mechanisms in evolutionary theory relate.