Model shows how scientific paradigms rise and fall

Feb 22, 2011 by Lisa Zyga feature
This figure shows 12 consecutive states of a system driven by the model, with one unit of time equaling one update for every agent. In the first picture, a new idea is dominating but small specks of color represent a finite innovation rate. A new state dominates between the third and fourth pictures, and in the fourth, fifth, and sixth pictures, two coherent states coexist. New individual dominant states arise in pictures nine and twelve. Image credit: S. Bornholdt, et al. ©2011 American Physical Society.

( -- Scientific concepts such as climate change, nanotechnology, and chaos theory can sometimes spring up and capture the attention of both the scientific and public communities, only to be replaced by new ideas later on. Although many factors influence the emergence and decline of such scientific paradigms, a new model has captured how these ideas spread, providing a better understanding of paradigm shifts and the culture of innovation.

The researchers, Stefan Bornholdt from the University of Bremen in Bremen, Germany, and Mogens Høgh Jensen and Kim Sneppen from the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark, have published their study called “Emergence and Decline of Scientific Paradigms” in a recent issue of Physical Review Letters.

“Our model addresses the interplay between a new idea and the difficulty it has in displacing old ideas in a world where alignment of interests is dominating,” Bornholdt told

Several models of opinion formation already exist, but the new model differs from earlier models in a few important ways. Unlike previous models, the new model allows for an infinite variety of ideas, although each idea has a small probability of being initiated. Also, each idea can appear only once, and an agent (or individual) cannot return to any of the ideas that they have previously held, reflecting scientists’ ongoing hunt for new ideas.

In the model, which is defined on a 2D square lattice, ideas spread in two possible ways. In the first way, an agent adopts a new idea held by its neighbors, with a probability proportional to how many agents already hold this particular idea. In the second way, an agent randomly gets a new idea that does not appear anywhere else in the system with a probability that depends on the “innovation rate.” The first way represents cooperative effects in social systems, while the second way represents innovation.

The model shows how a system with one dominating scientific paradigm transitions into a system with small clusters of ideas, some of which continue to grow until one dominates, and the process repeats with new ideas. The dynamics of the rise and fall of scientific paradigms depends on the system’s innovation rate. Systems with high innovation rates tend to contain a high degree of noise, along with many small domains of ideas that are constantly generated and replaced. In contrast, systems with low innovation rates tend to have low noise and a state that remains dominant for a long time until a single event replaces it.

In addition to providing a theoretical understanding of how scientific paradigms rise and fall, the model also provides insight that helps explain some observations in real life. For instance, the model shows how small systems have the potential to be more dynamic than large systems, which explains why large companies sometimes acquire small start-up firms as a source of innovation.

“Our model indicates that social cooperation makes it more difficult for new ideas to nucleate because of social pressure,” Bornholdt said. “Accordingly, our model finds a ‘winner take all’ dynamic, suggesting a fashion-like dynamic for the prevailing focus of contemporary science.

“Even though our model is extremely simplified and does not deal with right and wrong, it explores the effect of herd mentality in the propagation of ideas,” he added. “Our model suggests that herd mentality makes a larger system less innovative than several smaller ones. In short, for innovation it’s better to listen to yourself than to others.”

Overall, the model shows how new paradigms have a tendency to quickly rise to dominance, to decline slowly, and to quickly be replaced by other paradigms. When the rate is high, the takeover process is chaotic, with many new ideas competing for dominance. Regardless of the idea itself, the model shows that the pattern of paradigm shifts remains fairly consistent over time.

The results could have implications for science philosophy and science policy, as the model suggests that scientific diversity may need special attention. In addition, the researchers are applying the model to the study of the spread of epidemics.

“We are currently studying the ideas of ‘new’ and ‘old’ in epidemics modeling,” Bornholdt said, “where the ‘never-return-policy’ of ideas in the above is associated with immunity of infected hosts: A host that has been infected by a particular virus in the past will be immune to this virus in the future and, thus, will never acquire the same infection twice.”

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More information: S. Bornholdt, M. H. Jensen, and K. Sneppen. “Emergence and Decline of Scientific Paradigms.” Physical Review Letters 106, 058701 (2011). DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.106.058701

4.6 /5 (17 votes)

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not rated yet Feb 22, 2011
4.5 / 5 (2) Feb 22, 2011
Bravo! I'm glad to see people doing this sort of work.

The stereotypical antisocial brilliant scientist/engineer fits perfectly into this model... they see their innovations through more often because they bend less to social pressures. Brilliant people who are more socially bound may work within the confines of the status quo only breaking free of it when sufficiently courageous. (you might say the potential energy required for idea nucleation is greater in their case)
3 / 5 (2) Feb 22, 2011
(you might say the potential energy required for idea nucleation is greater in their case)

Well, you might, but that doesn't make it any less stupid.
4 / 5 (1) Feb 22, 2011
Oops I meant nucleation barrier energy not potential energy :/

Glad to see you are open to discussion lexington ;)
Feb 22, 2011
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
1.6 / 5 (14) Feb 22, 2011
Scientific concepts such as climate change...can sometimes spring up and capture the attention of both the scientific and public communities, only to be replaced by new ideas later on.


Looks like the explanations and excuses for the decline of Global-Whatever-They're-Calling-It-This-Week are already being developed. Then the spin starts, like, they actually meant it wasn't really getting warmer all along, in fact, the models all definitely predicted climate stability for a while and then more variability in whichever direction it happens to goes in next.

Maybe algore can put his Oscar and his Nobel on ebay. If he does it soon, they may still be worth something.
1 / 5 (9) Feb 22, 2011
Congratulations to researchers Stefan Bornholdt, Mogens Høgh Jensen, and Kim Sneppen for their very timely paper on the “Emergence and Decline of Scientific Paradigms.”

I expect these solar paradigms (dogmas) to be overthrown soon, thanks to public exposure of science's dark underside by the current climate scandal.

1. The Sun's origin,
2. The Sun's composition,
3. The Sun's source of energy, and
4. The Sun's influence on Earth's climate.

"Earth's Heat Source - The Sun,"
Energy & Environment 20 (2009) 131-144:

"Neutron Repulsion,"
The APEIRON Journal, in press (2011) 19 pages:

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
1.4 / 5 (10) Feb 22, 2011
The current backlog of obsolete concepts perhaps arose from the same flaw that produced the climate scandal: The "scientific-technological elite" that former President Eisenhower warned about in his 1961 farewell address:
1 / 5 (1) Feb 22, 2011
"Overall, the model shows how new paradigms have a tendency to quickly rise to dominance, to decline slowly, and to quickly be replaced by other paradigms."

So how does it decline slowly if it is replaced quickly?
3 / 5 (2) Feb 22, 2011
I see the masked sockpuppet posting rater hasn't noticed this thread yet (all posts but the first one say 'not rated yet' as I write this). Not to worry, he'll soon be hear making excellent iron-clad arguments simply by clicking his mouse.
3 / 5 (2) Feb 22, 2011
"Scientific concepts such as climate change, nanotechnology, and chaos theory can sometimes spring up and capture the attention of both the scientific and public communities, only to be replaced by new ideas later on.",

so, what's your alternative theory on particle physics, that is backed by all observations in the natural world and has been verified by predicted results?
5 / 5 (1) Feb 23, 2011
Maybe the cause of paradigm shifts lies in the social pressure that the researches speak of. When the curren science paradigm is regarded as an ideology (as often is the case) which seems to be in conflict with an individual's and/or a distinct social group's ideology, stress starts to build up. This stress can result in overthrowing the "oppresive" ideology (in this case, science paradigm).
1 / 5 (4) Feb 23, 2011
Sub:Science to Nature and Philosophy-Cosmology Vedas Interlinks
I am still not seeing the Scientific Community to see reality. A three Tier-mode and a three Tier Spread function-Concepts are introduced in my research.
Now -one needs to search "What drives the Sun"
see Cosmology Vedas Interlinks -projections and STSCI-May 2003 Paper as well. Contact -Eastwest Interaction in time to understand current mode Time-phase EM interaction
www [dot]newciv [dot] org/nl/newslog [dot] php/_v162
1 / 5 (2) Feb 25, 2011
so, what's your alternative theory on particle physics, that is backed by all observations in the natural world and has been verified by predicted results?

See: "Neutron Repulsion,"
The APEIRON Journal, in press (2011) 19 pages:

Please post any questions here or contact me by e-mail

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
1 / 5 (2) Mar 02, 2011
Old hat in many ways. Robert Pirsig in his work on the pursuit of quality (some decade ago) already clearly demonstrates the drag of a "paleoparadigm" (my term) on an evolving neoparadigm. Paradigms have permeable memetic boundaries. Paradigm shift involves the import of peripheral tenets, displacing obsolete precept while paradigm shift involves replacement of central tenets. Both forms are indismissably important in the evolution of idea: the global species worldmodel is both springboard, reference frame, and acts as retardative anchor, with typical pre- and proscription, whereas the evolving tenets of neoparadigm need to drag paleoparadigm into the future (how many lives has that cost...) The pursuit of quality (POQ) aims at aesthetico-functional extension of worldmodel and the choice, and application of directed (informed) energies. See my work on CQD, Cosmogonic Quantization Dynamics in my thesis: "The Nature of Being."

Frank Valentyn

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