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A Formal Model of Theory Choice in Science

  • William A. Brock
  • Steven N. Durlauf

Since the classic work of Feyerabend and Kuhn, the role of social factors in the scientific enterprise has been a major concern in the philosophy and history of science. In particular, the presence of social factors such as the desire for prestige or pressures to conform to accepted ideas, have been regarded as reasons to question whether science naturally progresses toward a more and more accurate approximations of reality. In this paper, we propose a formal model of theory choice which incorporates private and social influences. We provide a characterization of the interaction of social factors with theory choice. Our results demonstrate that the influence of social factors on scientific progress is far more complex than is typically assumed. In particular, we provide conditions under which social influences actually enhance the rate at which a superior theory replaces its inferior predecessor. Further, social interactions are shown to provide a theoretical model which is consistent with some broad empirical aspects of the pattern of scientific theory evolution.

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Paper provided by Santa Fe Institute in its series Research in Economics with number 97-04-031e.

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Date of creation: Apr 1997
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Handle: RePEc:wop:safire:97-04-031e
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  1. William A. Brock & Steven N. Durlauf, 1995. "Discrete Choice with Social Interactions I: Theory," Working Papers 95-10-084, Santa Fe Institute.
  2. Blume Lawrence E., 1993. "The Statistical Mechanics of Strategic Interaction," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 5(3), pages 387-424, July.
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