Social Dynamics of Science

Campus in winter

•“How do scientific disciplines emerge?”

SLIS faculty member Staša Milojevic recently co-authored an article with colleagues from the School of Informatics and Computing, and from Dalian University, China (see abstract below.) Co-author Xiaoling Sun was visiting the Center for Complex Networks and Systems Research at the Indiana University School of Informatics and Computing when the research was done.

The article, “Social Dynamics of Science,” appeared in the Scientific Reports – an open access source for peer-reviewed research from the publishers of Nature. The full-text article is available online:


The birth and decline of disciplines are critical to science and society. How do scientific disciplines emerge? No quantitative model to date allows us to validate competing theories on the different roles of endogenous processes, such as social collaborations, and exogenous events, such as scientific discoveries. Here we propose an agent-based model in which the evolution of disciplines is guided mainly by social interactions among agents representing scientists. Disciplines emerge from splitting and merging of social communities in a collaboration network. We find that this social model can account for a number of stylized facts about the relationships between disciplines, scholars, and publications. These results provide strong quantitative support for the key role of social interactions in shaping the dynamics of science. While several “science of science” theories exist, this is the first account for the emergence of disciplines that is validated on the basis of empirical data.

Author information:

Department of Computer Science and Technology, Dalian University of Technology, China Xiaoling Sun

Center for Complex Networks and Systems Research, School of Informatics and Computing, Indiana University, Bloomington, USA
Xiaoling Sun, Jasleen Kaur, Alessandro Flammini, and Filippo Menczer

School of Library and Information Science, Indiana University, Bloomington, USA
Staša Milojevic

Posted January 29, 2013