Archives For Social Studies of Science

Author Information: Gabriel Vélez-Cuartas, Universidad de Antioquia,

Vélez-Cuartas, Gabriel. “Invisible Colleges 2.0: Eponymy as a Scientometric Tool.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 7, no. 3 (2018): 5-8.

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The pdf of the article gives specific page references. Shortlink:

The corridors of an invisible college. Image from Justin Kern via Flickr / Creative Commons


Merton’s idea of eponymy as a prize for scientists, perhaps the most great of incentives, relatively addressed for a few ones, is revisited in the text from Collazo et al. An idea exposed nearly as a footnote in Merton’s Sociology of Science let open in this text two ideas that can be amplified as opportunities to go a step further in understanding scientific dynamics: (1) The idea of a literary figure as catalyzer of cognitive evolution of scientific communities; (2) the claims for geographical priority to show relevance in the hierarchy of science structures.

Faculty of the Invisible Colleges

(1) Derek de Solla Price (1963) and Diane Crane (1972) developed in the sixties and seventies of the last century the idea of invisible colleges. Those invisible colleges merged the idea of scientific growth due to chained interactions that made possible diffusion of innovations in cycles of exponential and linear growth. This statistic idea of growth has been related to the idea of paradigmatic revolutions in Kuhn’s ideas. These interactions determined the idea of a cognitive dynamic expressed in networks of papers linked by common references in Crane and De Solla Price. In other words, knowledge growth is possible because there are forms of interactions that make possible the construction of communities.

This idea has not evolved in time and appears in different works as: institutionalized communities combining co-authorship networks and citation indexes (Kretschermer 1994), social networks of supervisors, students and co-workers (Verspagen and Werker 2003; Brunn and O’Lear 1999; cultural circles (Chubin 1985); collaboration networks and preferential attachment (Verspagen and Werker 2004; Zuccala 2006).

More recently, the cognitive dynamic related to the other side of the definition of invisible colleges have been some advances focused on detecting cognitive communities. For instance, studies of bibliographic coupling based on similarity algorithms (Leydesdorff 2008; Colliander and Ahlgren 2012; Steinert and Hoppe 2017; Ciotti et al. 2016); hybrid techniques mixing different similarity measures, modularity procedures, and text- and citation-based analysis (Glänzel and Thijs 2017); and the explicit merge made by Van Raan (2014), he proposes a bibliometric analysis mixing co-word analysis, co-citation, and bibliographic coupling to describe invisible colleges dynamics.

Those advances in analysis claim for a transformation of the concept of invisible colleges. The determination of cognitive dynamics by interactions is on the shell. Indeed, different levels of hierarchies and determinations in multilayer networks are arising. This means that collaboration networks can be seen as local interactions embedded in a more global set of relationships shaped by all kind of scientific communications chained in networks of references (Luhmann, 1996).

Eponymy in scientific communication gives a sign of these dynamics. We agree that in the first level of interactions eponymy can describe prestige dynamics, accumulation of social or scientific capital as Bourdieu can describe in his theory of fields. Nevertheless, in a global context of the scientific system, Eponymy acts as a code that catalyzes communication functions in the scientific production. Different programs emerge from the mention of Jerzy Plebanski in the literature (the eponym analyzed within the text from Collazo et al), nevertheless is a common sign for all this communities. The eponymy gives a kind of confidence, content to be trusted and the scientific small masses confirm that by the grace of redundancy. Prestige becomes a communication function, more important than a guide for address the interaction.

How the Eponym Stakes an Invisible College’s Claim

(2) In this direction, the eponym appears as a rhetoric strategy in a semantic context of a determined scientific area, a partial system within the scientific form to communicate debates, controversies and research results. The geographical issue disappears in a way for this system. Cognitively, Jerzy Plebanski is a physicist; a geographical claim for the contributions seems distant to the discussion about the formation of invisible colleges or scientific communities.

Nevertheless, there are two underlying dynamics related to the space as category. One is the outlined dynamic of diffusion of knowledge. The eponym made itself stronger as a figure as can be redundant in many places. Diffusion is related here with dispersion. The strength of eponymy is due to the reach of dispersion that have emerged from redundancy of his name in different global spaces. It means penetration too.

The second is that scientific communities are locally situated and they are possible due to an economic and political context. It can be said that a scientific system needs roots on contexts that facilitate a scientific ethos. The modern expansion through colonies around the world left as a legacy the scientific way as a social function installed in almost every culture. But the different levels of institutional development affect the formation of local scientific communities conditioned by: the struggle between economic models based or non-based on scientific and technological knowledge (Arocena & Sutz, 2013); cultural coloniality (Quijano, 2007); the openness of science and the concentration of knowledge in private companies as part of a regime of intellectual property (Vélez Cuartas et al, 2018).

In other words, the claim for the work of Jerzy Plebanski as a Mexican and the appearance of eponym in Latin American lands borne as an exclamation. The acknowledgement of Latin American science is a kind of reaffirmation. In logic of scientific system observed from the Global North it seems a trivial issue, where a dictionary of scientific eponyms can list more than 9,000 renamed scientists. The geographical issue plays in two sides to comprehend this dynamic: from one side, the penetration of a global scientific form of communication, that is expansion of the system. This means growing of cognitive capacities, growth of collective intelligence under the ethos of science. Locally, express conditions of possibility of appearance of scientific communities and their consolidation.

The eponymy appears not as signal of prestige but as indicator of scientific growing as form of organization and specialization. Although Plebanski is a foreign last name, the possibility to stay there, to develop his work within that place, and to reach a symbolic status in a semantic community that is organized in a network of meaning around his work, express self-organization dynamics of science. Then eponym not only gives a function to indicate prestige, shows a geographical penetration of scientific institutions and global dynamics of scientific systems.

The work of Collazo et al shows an important step to induce analysis on other areas of sociology of science and social epistemology. Introduce the rhetoric figures as a cybernetic instrument that make able to observe systemic possibilities of scientific community formation. Eponymy as a Scientometric tool sounds good as a promising methodology.

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Arocena, R., & Judith Sutz. (2013). Innovación y democratización del conocimiento como contribución al desarrollo inclusivo. In Sistemas de Innovación para un Desarrollo Inclusivo: la experiencia latinoamericana (pp. 19–34). México, D.F: Foro Consultivo Científico y Tecnológico AC. Retrieved from

Brunn, S. D., & O’Lear, S. R. (1999). Research and communication in the “invisible college” of the Human Dimensions of Global Change, 9, 285–301. doi:10.1016/S0959-3780(99)00023-0

Chubin, D. E. (1985). Beyond invisible colleges: Inspirations and aspirations of post-1972 social studies of science. Scientometrics, 7, 221–254. doi:10.1007/BF02017148

Ciotti, V., Bonaventura, M., Nicosia, V., Panzarasa, P., & Latora, V. (2016). Homophily and missing links in citation networks. EPJ Data Science, 5(1). doi:10.1140/epjds/s13688-016-0068-2

Colliander, C., & Ahlgren, P. (2012). Experimental comparison of first and second-order similarities in a scientometric context. Scientometrics, 90(2), 675–685. doi:10.1007/s11192-011-0491-x

Crane, D. (1972). Invisible colleges: Diffusion of knowledge in scientific communities. Chicago & London: The university of Chicago Press. ISBN: 0-226-11857-6

De Solla Price, D (1963). Little Science, Big Science. Columbia University Press, New York. ISBN: 0-231-04957-9

Glänzel, W., & Thijs, B. (2017). Using hybrid methods and “core documents” for the representation of clusters and topics: the astronomy dataset. Scientometrics, 111(2), 1071–1087. doi:10.1007/s11192-017-2301-6

Kretschmer, H. (1994). Coauthorship networks of invisible-colleges and institutionalized communities. Scientometrics, 30(1), 363–369. doi:10.1007/BF02017234

Leydesdorff, L. (2008). On the normalization, and visualization of author cocitation data: Salton’s cosine versus the jaccard index. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 59 (1), pp. 77-85. doi: 10.1002/asi.20732

Luhmann, Niklas (1996). La ciencia de la sociedad. Rubí: Anthropos. ISBN: 9788476584910

Quijano, A. Coloniality and Modernity/Rationality. Cultural Studies 21 (2-3) (March/May 2007): 168–178.

Steinert, L., & Hoppe, H. U. (2017). A comparative analysis of network-based similarity measures for scientific paper recommendations. In Proceedings – 2016 3rd European Network Intelligence Conference, ENIC 2016 (pp. 17–24). Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc., doi:10.1109/ENIC.2016.011

Van Raan, A. F. J. (2014). Advances in bibliometric analysis: research performance assessment and science mapping. In: W. Blockmans, L. Engwall, D. Weaire (eds.). Bibliometrics: Use and Abuse in the Review of Research Performance. Wenner-Gren International Series Vol. 87. (pp.17-28). London: Portland Press Ltd., ISBN: 9781855781955.

Vélez Cuartas, G (2018). Validación y evaluación en las ciencias sociales y humanas. En: Vélez Cuartas, G; Aristizábal, C; Piazzini, C; Villega, L; Vélez Salazar, G; Masías Nuñez, R (EDS). Investigación en ciencias sociales, humanidades y artes. Debates para su valoración. Medellín: Universidad de Antioquia, Universidad de los Andes,  pp 91-182. ISBN: 978-958-5413-60-3

Verspagen, B. B., & Werker, C. (2003). The Invisible College of The Economics of Innovation and Technological Change. Estudios de Economía Aplicada, diciembre, 393-419. Retrieved from Accessed 25 January 2017.

Verspagen, B. B., & Werker, C. (2004). Keith Pavitt and the Invisible College of the Economics of Technology and Innovation. Research Policy, 33, 1419–1431. doi:10.1016/j.respol.2004.07.010

Zuccala, A. (2006). Modeling the invisible college. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 57, 152–168. doi:10.1002/asi.20256

Author Information: James H. Collier, Virginia Tech, SERRC,

Collier, James H. 2011. “Doing Social Epistemology Socially: A Report.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 1 (1) 1-4.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink:

A Report on the roundtable entitled “Doing Social Epistemology Socially” held at the Society for Social Studies of Science Meeting, Cleveland, November 2011.

While the roundtable discussion ranged widely, I left impressed both by the enthusiasm over the Collective project, and by the practical note of caution in how we might proceed.


I found the roundtable well-attended — perhaps twenty-five to thirty people (including the panel members).[1] The panel consisted of Jim Collier, William Davis, Marianne DeLaet, Steve Fuller, Joan Leach and Melissa Orozco.[2] Francis Remedios also represented the Collective. Noted members of the audience included Phil Mirowski and Raphael Sassower.

I gave brief remarks as to the roundtable’s purpose. These remarks led into a series of “provocations” — my observations and claims regarding the normative commitments of scholarly authors and readers using Social Epistemology as a central example. Marianne replied to my opening. After Marianne’s reply, the discussion developed along a series of themes including:

  1. Models for collaborative authorship;
  2. The “academic currency” of the Collective’s work;
  3. The vulnerability of, and responsibilities to, early-career (untenured) scholars;
  4. Re-imagining the obligations of scholars to publishing platforms;
  5. The Collective as an “extra” academic relationship.


Allow me to peg my report to the central themes listed in the Background section.

1. Models for collaborative authorship

In my opening remarks, I mentioned that we are exploring models for how to write collaboratively. We have not faced fully the tangles of assigning credit, working effectively in subgroups, and distributing tasks associated with the process of research and writing a given piece. Collaborative writing is not a common practice in the humanities. How to write collaboratively is not taught and seen as anathema. In the social sciences researchers actively collaborate on articles, but I am unclear how tasks associated with the writing process are assigned (I assume such tasks reside with a single author). The model of collaborative authorship in the natural sciences was raised on several occasions. So, the question: Should the Collective adopt the model of collaborative writing in the sciences?

I think the sciences offer lessons as to the ethos of what we might want. Still, working on narrowly defined laboratory-based problems, given the perspective available through similar, if not the same, disciplinary training (I know that broader scientific collaborations happen more frequently in the digital age), makes for a different kind of collaboration. We are not in a lab. Yet, might we fruitfully conceive of the Collective as a kind of scholarly lab?

At the roundtable’s start, I waved off Wikipedia as collaborative writing model. Perhaps wrongly, I find the epistemic goals of encyclopedism different than our own. Moreover, one might well argue the goal in writing an encyclopedia entry, especially given Wikipedia’s current editorial practices, remains developing a consistent authorial voice by forming a consensus around a comprehensive, factually accurate description.

I indicated that our collaborations might explicitly “show the work” (I realize one can see the editorial moves and comments behind a Wikipedia entry). By “show the work” I explained that we might consider how to present disagreement, to indicate confusion or to show negotiation in a way that truly demonstrates the complexity of collaborative inquiry. I was quick to mention, and reject, experiments in “new literary forms” (in the sociology of scientific knowledge in the last 1980’s and early 1990’s). New literary forms tried to turn the conventions of fiction writing, stagecraft, marginalia, irony and reflexive awareness into a kind of meta-textual performance.

Generally, much early discussion in the roundtable involved the approach and style of collaborative authorship.

2. The “academic currency” of the Collective’s work

How will the Collective’s work be received? Moreover, how will the Collective value its work in relation to the time needed to produce meaningful content? I think my answers to these questions, and responses to related comments, came both in the form of a practical admission and an idealist plea.

For early-career scholars digital publishing provides a valuable outlet. The practical value, or academic (or professional) currency, of such publications remains limited — at least as conventionally conceived and performed. I believe the Collective can do something different. Given an imaginative approach, and explicit high standards, we create the academic currency of our work. We demonstrate the value of our work by supporting its reception through continued dialogue. We sustain exchanges among our selves and the site participants. We try not to produce one-off pieces absent a response.

As the website will keep a close association with the journal, I hope the symbiosis will strengthen the regard in which the Collective’s work is received. For Collective members trying to get academic positions and move through the ranks, I trust that the good work we do will help. Moreover, I believe any particular work we complete can be used in the future in a more traditional sense (this belief raises complicating issues that I address below). We have an international network that may lead to professional advantages. The roundtable revealed that we have interested friends. We need to keep their interest.

Ideally, we can regularly contribute to the Collective since the workload can be widely distributed and variously shared. Collective members are all quite busy. In some cases members have theses, class papers, dissertations, articles and grants to write (among other things!). In what priority, then, stands work of the Collective? My reply came as a plea for us to imagine and design procedures for distributing the workload so that we might readily integrate the Collective’s work into our intellectual lives.

3. The vulnerability of, and responsibilities to, early career (untenured) scholars

A point raised initially by Fuller, and echoed throughout the session, is that early-career Collective members are taking a risk — effort absent clear reward — and may need protection.

The risks appear twofold: (1) The work done by the Collective lacks traditional academic currency (see above), especially when writing credit is shared, and may count little for academic career advancement; and, (2) The work, depending on the project, puts Collective members in direct critical dialogue with senior scholars. While a senior (or any) scholar wants attention paid to their work, critical replies may call for a deft touch.

I found Fuller’s concerns well-motivated. In response, I agreed such vulnerabilities exist. I offered a broad reply to (1) by claiming that the Collective will lend meaning to its work through an explicit recognition of its aims and practices. In reply to (2), I suggested that the form and degree such protection takes might be based on the how we organize the work — strength and safety in numbers being our watchword.

4. Re-imagining the obligations of scholars to publishing platforms

More a series of provocations, perhaps, I made observations regarding the responsibilities of authors and readers both to their scholarship and to the journals in which they publish. Consider: Publishing an author’s work requires considerable resources. True, articles keep a journal afloat. But does an author have a responsibility beyond making a one-off contribution to a journal (typically a journal publishes a single article by an author)? For example, does an author have the obligation to read the journal in which they publish (my point of emphasis)? To cite the journal? To serve as a peer reviewer? To actively promote the reception of their work and, hence, the readership of the journal? Ultimately, then, what are the normative obligations of authors and readers in the ecology of scholarship? On an immediate front, I argued that authors should read the journal in which they publish (broadly, not just the issue in their work appears). This argument led to points regarding the economic models of journals and to speculation regarding a more flexible model of individual subscription rates and online access.

5. The Collective as an “extra” academic relationship

Might, and how might, we conceive the Collective as an “extra” academic relationship? This question came toward the end of the roundtable, out of responses to issues 2 and 3 above, leading to reasoning one might label speculative at best. To wit, given the use of digital media to promote international scholarly work (among other things), might the Collective be recognized, or sanctioned, much like a post-doctoral fellowship or seen as, going back to point 1, a scholarly lab of sorts (a lab “doing social epistemology socially”) conducting experiments in academic inquiry? Or as an academic consortium? Positioned as a “formal” academic relationship, might the Collective’s activities have recognizable (fundable?) implications for performing research and teaching outside a particular university? For example, might the Collective help teach a course?


While the roundtable discussion ranged widely, I left impressed both by the enthusiasm over the Collective project and by the practical note of caution in how we might proceed. Realizing how busy we are, and given our varying intellectual commitments, I have only a vague sense of how we can do the work of the Collective in a way that might be best integrated into our professional lives. For the Collective to develop, we need an idea of sustained, meaningful work that entails a professional payoff.

Future Action

Some questions for possible future action:

  • Do all of us, or rotating subgroups, need to meet, on a scheduled basis, beyond the website and email? Skype conference calls?
  • Do we need to grow? At the end of the roundtable, I collected a list of eight names of people who wish to be kept informed of the Collective’s activities.
  • Do we need more long-term planning of projects and, so, regular web content?
  • Do we need to address the concerns mentioned above regarding early-career vulnerability and the academic currency of the work? If so, how do we address these concerns?
  • Do we need a conference and/or a professional organization to call our own?

Contact details:


Panel Abstract

Social epistemology, understood as an “intellectual movement of broad cross-disciplinary provenance that attempts to reconstruct the problems of epistemology once knowledge is regarded as intrinsically social” is poised to move beyond its classic mode of intellectual critique and analytical reconstruction by experimenting with collective, social practices of knowing. This roundtable discussion explores the forms that social epistemology, as a practical endeavor and constructive site of knowing and knowledge-making, does and can take. Panelists will reflect upon how to develop and bring into practice the project of social epistemology; they include members of the “Reply and Review Collective” — an international collaboration of scholars who are currently engaged in an effort to “do social epistemology socially”.

[1] I was encouraged by the attendance at the roundtable considering the time of day (3:30) and the location of the proceedings — the “Boardroom” on the twenty-second floor of the Marriott. Travel to the twenty-second floor was not unproblematic. Describing unfortunate encounters with elevator malfunctions was the opening of innumerable conversations throughout the conference. Chairs in the boardroom were in short supply and some attendees sat on the floor. After the roundtable, a contingent of the panel decided to take the stairs to the thirteenth floor to meet the elevator.

[2] The attendance of Steve, Joan and I marked the complete editorial history of Social Epistemology. As Fuller wrote in an email to me on 5 November: “It became clear last night that the roundtable was quite significant — since I was able to tell Mel Orozco just about the entire history of social epistemology by talking about the people who attended it. It was effectively the first social epistemology summit conference — a kind of ‘First international’ in the old Marxist terms.”