Levels of Description

The evolutionary view of science has a long and distinguished history. In the late 19th century, the great psychologist and philosopher William James sketched an evolutionary theory of human ideas, and the view that science proceeds through a process of variation and selection was most powerfully advanced by Karl Popper and Donald Campbell in the second half of the 20th century. Yet the formal techniques developed by scholars of cultural evolution—especially the techniques of phylogenetic inference—have not been applied to science itself, despite its status as an essential and rapidly evolving cultural system. Individual scientists and large organizations like corporations or funding agencies all have a compelling interest in the question that this project addresses.

Exploring questions closely related to this core project will provide an explicit and empirically grounded extension of evolutionary methods to a new domain, thereby deepening our understanding of the nature and scope of evolutionary dynamics.