"The Diversity of Infinity," Thomas Wright, from An Original Theory or New Hypothesis of the Universe (London: 1750).

In the late 1800s, a collection of sociologists and philosophers started to try and make sense of the steady yet chaotic progress of scientific discovery, which physicist Freeman Dyson has referred to as “a succession of illogical jumps, improbable coincidences, jokes of nature.” 

The “science of science,” as the endeavor is now known, turns the scientific method inward, on the scientific ecosystem itself, to understand its structure and dynamics. Largely confined to sociology and philosophy for decades, advances in computer technology at the turn of the century broadened the discipline into what is now an interdisciplinary field encompassing computer scientists, statisticians, biologists, physicists, and more. 

Today’s collaborative and diverse research community reflects SFI’s mission. This May 5-6, the Institute hosted a meeting called “A New Synthesis for the Science of Science.” Postponed three times by the COVID-19 pandemic, the workshop will synthesize concepts, models, methods, and data to craft a new vision for the science of science. 

“The data and computational tools available today are transforming the field,” says SFI External Professor Aaron Clauset (University of Colorado Boulder). “This workshop aims to articulate the organizing questions that should guide the next five to 10 years of work.”

In addition to Clauset, workshop organizers include SFI Professor Mirta Galesic and former SFI Postdoctoral Fellow Daniel B. Larremore, Assistant Professor of Computer Science at the University of Colorado Boulder. 

The workshop will focus on the individual and structural inequalities within science that slow the pace and limit the diversity of discovery. Specifically, participants will explore the mechanisms that produce epistemic and social inequality, the removal of which would accelerate and broaden scientific advances. For example, why do a handful of graduate programs produce 50 percent of all tenure-track faculty across different fields? Or why do women produce fewer papers throughout their careers than their male peers?

These questions are even more timely and pertinent after the global pandemic disrupted all levels of science. “The pandemic has inflamed epistemic inequalities, particularly around women,” says Clauset. “The workshop will help us address the underlying causes of pervasive inequalities in science.”

Adds Galesic, “This research can help us to see how some deeper changes in the system can alleviate structural barriers and inequalities.”


This meeting was supported by the National Science Foundation Grant Number 2006355.