How academic opinion leaders shape scientific ideas: an acknowledgment analysis

Originally published in Scientometrics

In this paper, we examine how a research institution’s social structure and the presence of academic opinion leaders shaped the early adoption of a scientific innovation. Our case considers the early engagement of mathematical economists at the Cowles Commission with John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern’s Theory of Games and Economic Behavior. We argue that scholars with administrative leadership functions who were not only scientifically but also organizationally central—in our case Jacob Marschak, the director of research at Cowles—played a crucial role in promoting the early adoption of the Theory of Games. We support our argument with a scientometric analysis of all acknowledgments made in 488 papers published from 1944 to 1955 in the two main research paper series at the Cowles Commission. We apply blockmodeling techniques to the acknowledgments network to reconstruct the formal and informal social structure at Cowles at the time. Our case study emphasizes the importance of formal and informal social structures and the research agendas of academic opinion leaders to explain the early engagement with and adoption of innovative scientific ideas. Studies of the early adoption of scientific theories can benefit from complementary perspectives on the role of academic opinion leaders and scientists in explaining theory adoption.

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