On the study and practice of early stage science.
As sciences mature, they develop standardized methods and advanced instrumentation. Before that, there is a phase in scientific development that we call early stage science. During this stage, scientific research is often characterized by greater uncertainty: data is less reliable, instruments are less precise, and the space of available hypotheses is broader.
Our researchers study early stage science, both by investigating successful instances of early stage science from the history of science, and by studying research attempts in nascent and struggling fields. Our primary research program focuses on how important scientific discoveries were made in the past, on the hypothesis that this can inform research efforts today. We also support early research directly by running an exploratory research program in the field of psychology, and by hosting a Research Fellows program for researchers in early fields.
Early Stage Science
An investigation into scientific methodology.
Our early stage science research program aims to understand early stage science by investigating the history of successful scientific fields. We conduct case studies of important advances, seeking to understand how scientists made their discoveries and enable a broader analysis of patterns in early scientific progress.
We study scientists like Alessandro Volta (electricity), Robert Koch (germ theory), and Antoine Lavosier (oxygen combustion), learning how they created new instruments, conducted new experiments, and developed new theories. We investigate how the scientists’ research was informed by past efforts, how their approaches differed from those of their contemporaries, and the surrounding contexts in which the discoveries were made.
Featured Research Questions
→ How does early stage science differ from later stage science?
→ Why is research progress in some fields more reliable than in others?
→ How can one identify promising research in early fields?
→ What role do new instruments play in scientific progress?
→ When does the scientific community adopt new discoveries?
→ What led to the major discoveries in the history of science?
What research methodologies allow researchers to make progress during the earliest stages of scientific development in a field? Our Program Introduction describes an exemplative set of historical cases, states our original hypothesis about early stage science, and explains our expected research methodology.
An investigation of the distribution and impact of Volta's electrophorus. Our case study analyses why Volta’s electrophorus advanced consensus in the field despite similar phenomena having previously been demonstrated by two prominent scientists of the time. Key insights from this research are summarised in a supplementary research highlights document.
An analysis of William Gilbert’s discovery of static electric attraction and identification of the category of electricks. Our case study aims to understand how knowledge of static electric attraction developed prior to Gilbert and the causes and factors that enabled him to make his discovery.
The Leyden Jar
The Leyden jar is widely recognized as among the most important discoveries in the history of electricity. While accounts often present the discovery as a mix of luck and crisis, our case study suggests a more complex picture. Included with the research are three unpublished letters by Kleist detailing his early studies, which are shared for others to study.
Ørsted and Electromagnetism
An investigation of the discovery of electromagnetism in 1820. We demonstrate that electromagnetism was straightforwardly discoverable by 1802 and investigate why the discovery was overlooked. We also discuss the central role of philosophy in Ørsted’s discovery, especially the metaphysical ideas of Kant and Schelling.
New methods of understanding mental structure.
Our psychology research program initially focused on developing techniques to assist introspection, improving methods for representing mental structures, and understanding how to use hypotheses about mental structure to produce improvements to well-being and effectiveness. We worked with more than 400 people to develop, test, and refine our methods. Throughout our research, we developed a set of techniques that we hope can serve as standard tools to help researchers in psychology investigate important questions pertaining to mental structure and content.
The current focus of this program is determining how to share these methods and engage with a broader range of researchers. This project includes exploring routes for collaboration in academia and studying the history of successful and unsuccessful attempts to distribute new research methods. For academic researchers interested in learning more, please contact us.
Independent researchers studying topics in promising young fields.
Exciting research in early stage fields often comes from individuals pursuing independent lines of research. To support such research, we provide funding, infrastructure, and an intellectual community for independent researchers working on promising early stage research projects in the form of a Research Fellows program.
While we are primarily interested in supporting research in early stage fields, there are no restrictions on the field of study for prospective Fellows. Past Fellows have studied topics in philosophy, education, religion, and more. The number of Fellows at any one time depends on our available funding, the pool of qualified candidates, and other considerations. In some years, we will not support Research Fellows. Visit our hiring page to learn more about our fellowship program and apply to be a research fellow.
2019 - 2020 Cohort
Jonathan Wallis – development and impact of social technology
Nihal Singh – political philosophy and GurSikh doctrine
Dodson Morgenthaller – mind-body relation and embodiment