Doctoral Dissertation Research in Science of Science and Innovation Policy: From Cycles to Spirals: Structural Analysis of Scientific Consensus Formation


Peter Bearman
Jonathan R. Cole Professor of Sociology; President of the American Assembly
Uri Shwed
Assistant Professor, Ben Gurion University


The project develops a new strategy to explain and measure scientific consensus formation. It develops a quantitative measure of scientific consensus, based on an analysis of the structure of scientific citation networks. The measure is validated by exploiting changing consensus levels across time regarding several scientific propositions, such as "smoking causes cancer", "Human activity causes a climate change", etc. The analysis reveals a surprising dynamic of consensus formation in one case - the carcinogenicity of smoking - during the 1970s (before scientific consensus on the issue was consider a fact). The work is validated by qualitative, in depth interviews with the scientists who produced these high contestation levels through their work on developing a safer cigarette.