A scientific community can be modeled as a collection of epistemic agents attempting to answer questions, in part by communicating about their hypotheses and results. We can treat the pathways of scientific communication as a network. When we do, it becomes clear that the interaction between the structure of the network and the nature of the question under investigation affects epistemic desiderata, including accuracy and speed to community consensus. Here we build on previous work, both our own and others’, in order to get a firmer grasp on precisely which features of scientific communities interact with which features of scientific questions in order to influence epistemic outcomes.
Here we introduce a measure on the landscape meant to capture some aspects of the difficulty of answering an empirical question. We then investigate both how different communication networks affect whether the community finds the best answer and the time it takes for the community to reach consensus on an answer. We measure these two epistemic desiderata on a continuum of networks sampled from the Watts–Strogatz spectrum. It turns out that finding the best answer and reaching consensus exhibit radically different patterns. The time it takes for a community to reach a consensus in these models roughly tracks mean path length in the network. Whether a scientific community finds the best answer, on the other hand, tracks neither mean path length nor clustering coefficient.