Science Policy

ICSSI 2023: Hacking the Science of Science

07.13.23 | 7 min read | Text by Jordan Dworkin

What are the best approaches for structuring, funding, and conducting innovative scientific research? The importance of this question — long pondered by philosophers, historians, sociologists, and scientists themselves — is motivating the rapid growth of a new, interdisciplinary and empirically minded Science of Science that spans academia, industry, and government. At the 2nd annual International Conference on the Science of Science and Innovation, held June 26-29 at Northwestern University, experts from across this diverse community gathered to build new connections and showcase the cutting edge of the field.

At this year’s conference, the Federation of American Scientists aimed to further these goals by partnering with Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management to host the first Metascience Hackathon. This event brought together participants from eight different countries — representing 20 universities, two federal agencies, and two non-profits — to stimulate cross-disciplinary collaboration and develop new approaches to impact. Diverging from the traditional hackathon model, we encouraged teams to advance the field along one of three distinct dimensions: Policy, Knowledge, and Tools.

Participants rose to the occasion, producing eight creative and impactful projects. In the Policy track, teams proposed transformative strategies to enhance scientific reproducibility, support immigrant STEM researchers, and foster impactful interdisciplinary research. The Knowledge track saw teams leveraging data and AI to explore the dynamics of peer review, scientific collaboration, and the growth of the science of science community. The Tools track introduced novel platforms for fostering global research collaboration and visualizing academic mobility.

These projects, developed in less than a day (!), underscore the potential of the science of science community to drive impactful change. They represent not only the innovative spirit of the participants but also the broader value of interdisciplinary collaboration in addressing complex challenges and shaping the future of science. 

We are excited to showcase the teams’ work below.


A Funders’ Tithe for Reproducibility Centers

Project Team: Shambhobi Battacharya (Northwestern University), Elena Chechik (European University at St. Petersburg), Alexander Furnas (Northwestern University), & Greg Quigg (University of Massachusetts Amherst)

Background: The responsibility for ensuring scientific reproducibility is primarily on individual researchers and academic institutions. However, reproducibility efforts are often inadequate due to limited resources, publication bias, time constraints, and lack of incentives.

Solution: We propose a policy whereby large science funding bodies earmark a certain percentage of their allocated grants towards establishing and maintaining reproducibility centers. These specialized entities would employ dedicated teams of independent scientists to reproduce or replicate high-impact, high-leverage, or suspicious research. The existence of dedicated reproducibility centers with independent scientists conducting post-hoc, self-directed reproducibility and replication studies will alter the incentives for researchers throughout the scientific community, strengthening the body of scientific knowledge and increasing public trust in scientific findings.

View the proposal

Immigrant STEM Training: Crossing the Valley of Death

Project Team: Sujata Emani (Personal Capacity), Takahiro Miura (University of Tokyo), Mengyi Sun (Northwestern University), & Alice Wu (Federation of American Scientists)

Background: Immigrants significantly contribute to the U.S. economy, particularly in STEM entrepreneurship and innovation. However, they often encounter legal, financial, and interpersonal barriers that lead to high rates of mental health disorders and attrition from scientific research.

Solution: To mitigate these challenges, we propose that science funding agencies expand eligibility for major federal science fellowships (e.g., the NSF GRFP and NIH NRSA) to include international students, providing them with more stable funding sources. We also propose a broader shift in federal research funding towards research fellowships, reducing hierarchical power structures and improving the training environment. Implementing these recommendations can empower all graduate students, foster greater scientific progress, and benefit the American economy.

View the proposal

Increasing Interdisciplinary Research through a More Balanced Research Funding and Evaluation Process

Project Team: Jonathan Coopersmith (Texas A&M University), Jari Kuusisto (University of Vaasa), Ye Sun (University College London), & Hongyu Zhou (University of Antwerp)

Background: Solving local, national, and global challenges will increasingly require interdisciplinary research that spans diverse perspectives and insights. Despite the need for impactful interdisciplinary research, it has not reached its full potential due to the persistence of significant obstacles at many levels of the creation of knowledge. This lack of support makes it challenging to develop and utilize the full potential of interdisciplinarity.

Solution: We propose that national funding agencies should launch a Balanced Research Funding and Evaluation Initiative to create and implement national standards for interdisciplinary research development, management, promotion, funding, and evidence-based evaluation. We outline the specific mechanisms such a program could use to unlock more impactful research on global challenges.

View the proposal


Identifying Reviewer Disciplines and their Impact on Peer Review

Project Team: Chenyue Jiao (University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign), Erzhuo Shao (Northwestern University), Louis Shekhtman (Northeastern University), & Satyaki Sikdar (Indiana University, Bloomington)

Background: Given the rise in interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research, there is an increasing need to obtain the perspectives of multiple peer reviewers with unique expertise. In this project, we explore whether reviewers from particular disciplines tend to be more critical of papers applying a different disciplinary approach.

Solution: Using a dataset of open reviews from Nature Communications, we assign concepts to papers and reviews using the OpenAlex concept tagger, and analyze review sentiment using OpenAI’s ChatGPT API. Our results identify network pairs of review and paper concepts; several pairs correspond to expectations, such as engineers’ negativity towards physicists’ work and economists’ criticisms of biology studies. Further study and collection of additional datasets could improve the utility of these results.

View the abstract

Team Formation: Expected or Unexpected

Project Team: Noly Higashide (University of Tokyo), Oh-Hyun Kwon (Pohang University of Science and Technology), Zeijan Lyu (University of Chicago), & Seokkyun Woo (Northwestern University)

Background: This year’s conference highlighted the importance of studying the interaction of scientists to better understand the scientific ecosystem. Here, we explore the dynamics of scientific collaboration and its influence on the success of resulting research.

Solution: Using SciSciNet data, we investigate how the likelihood of team formation affects the impact, disruption, and novelty of the papers in the field of biology, chemistry, psychology, and sociology. Our results suggest that the relationship between team structure and research impact varies across disciplines. Specifically, in chemistry and biology the relationship between proximity and citations has an inverse U-shape, such that papers with moderate proximity have the highest impact. ​​These findings underline the need for further exploration of how collaboration patterns affect scientific discovery.

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SciSciPeople: Identifying New Members of the Science of Science Community

Project Team: Sirag Erkol (Northwestern University), Yifan Qian (Northwestern University), & Henry Xu (Carnegie Mellon University)

Background: The growth and diversification of the science of science community is crucial for fostering innovation and broadening perspectives.

Solution: Our project introduces SciSciPeople, a new pipeline designed to identify potential new members for this community. Using data from the ICSSI website, SciSciNet, and Google Scholar, our pipeline identifies individuals who have shown interest in the science of science — either through citing well-known review papers, or noting the field as a research interest on Google Scholar — but are not yet part of the ICSSI community. Applying this pipeline successfully identified hundreds of relevant individuals. This tool not only enriches the science of science community but also has potential applications for various fields aiming to discover new individuals to expand their communities.

View the abstract


ScholarConnect: A Platform for Fostering Knowledge Exchange

Project Team: Sai Koneru (Pennsylvania State University), Xuelai Li (Imperial College London), Casey Meyer (OurResearch), Mark Tschopp (Army Research Laboratory)

Background: The rapid growth of the scientific community has made it hard to stay aware of the researchers working on similar projects to your own. As a result, there is a need for new ways to identify researchers doing relevant work in other institutions or fields.

Solution: We created “ScholarConnect”, an open-source tool designed to foster global collaboration among researchers. ScholarConnect recommends potential collaborators based on similarities in research expertise, determined by factors like publication records, concepts, institutions, and countries. The tool offers personalized recommendations and an interactive user interface, allowing users to explore and connect with like-minded researchers from diverse backgrounds and disciplines. We’ve ensured privacy and security by not storing user-entered information and basing recommendations on anonymized, aggregated profiles, and we invite contributions from the wider research community to improve ScholarConnect.

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Scientist Map: A Tool for Visualizing Academic Mobility across Institutions

Project Team: Tianji Jiang (University of California Los Angeles), Jesse Tabak (Northwestern University), & Shibo Zhou (Georgia Institute of Technology)

Background: The migration of academic researchers provides a unique window to observe the mobility of knowledge and innovations today, and has been a valuable area of investigation for scholars across various disciplines.

Solution: To study the migration of academic individuals, we introduce a tool designed to allow users to search an academic’s history of affiliation and visualize their historical path on a map. This tool aims to help scientific producers and consumers better understand the migration of experts across institutions, and to support relevant science of science by providing easy access to researchers’ migration history.

View the project