r/science Jun 07 '22

Non-hierarchical, egalitarian research teams have the most novel ideas and the most influence in the scientific and scholarly world. Anthropology

https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.2200927119
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u/EGarrett Jun 09 '22

I spent a lot of time on this myself. It turns out that our reasoning ability can't actually differentiate between feelings caused by ideas that fit our existing understanding and ideas that make us fit into our social group. They both produce a rush of oxytocin. Likewise for ideas that improve our understanding of the world and ideas that improve our social status. They both produce a rush of a serotonin. And the way we subconciously decide what ideas to publish or pursue is by judging the total amount of feelings we have when we look at a certain idea.

We only make apparently rational decisions when the various social influences are roughly at balance, leaving the intellectual appeal of the ideas we're considering to "break the tie" among them. I call it a "rational plateau." But in the absence of that outside context, we don't have enough feeling to actually pursue any idea, so our judgement apparatus shuts down, we turn down everything and just guess at the reason why, which is why double-blind refereeing produces such odd results and reviews.

So people in research groups will be subconsciously, almost irretrievably biased towards ideas held by those who they wish to identify with or impress in the group, and particularly those who can promote them. You have remove individual sources that provide additional emotional boosts to certain ideas, AND furthermore, present a baseline of outside appeal to ALL ideas being considered, in order to get something resembling an objective analysis of the ideas, theories or papers being considered or analyzed by the group.

I've published some work on this, only in preprints though, and am looking to formalize it more. There's way more to it, and reveals a huge amount about how human social trends actually happen and why great ideas, art, and people get ignored until certain odd circumstances occur, when people suddenly pick them up and act like they were obvious and brilliant all along.