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What happened to cognitive science?

Abstract

More than a half-century ago, the ‘cognitive revolution’, with the influential tenet ‘cognition is computation’, launched the investigation of the mind through a multidisciplinary endeavour called cognitive science. Despite significant diversity of views regarding its definition and intended scope, this new science, explicitly named in the singular, was meant to have a cohesive subject matter, complementary methods and integrated theories. Multiple signs, however, suggest that over time the prospect of an integrated cohesive science has not materialized. Here we investigate the status of the field in a data-informed manner, focusing on four indicators, two bibliometric and two socio-institutional. These indicators consistently show that the devised multi-disciplinary program failed to transition to a mature inter-disciplinary coherent field. Bibliometrically, the field has been largely subsumed by (cognitive) psychology, and educationally, it exhibits a striking lack of curricular consensus, raising questions about the future of the cognitive science enterprise.

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Fig. 1: The multidisciplinarity of cognitive science.
Fig. 2: Four indicators of the status of cognitive science.
Fig. 3: The citation environment of the journal Cognitive Science for the years 2000, 2007 and 2014.
Fig. 4: The current undergraduate cognitive science curriculum in North America.

Data availability

The data sets generated in this study can be found on GitHub (https://github.com/rdgao/WH2CogSci) and FigShare (https://figshare.com/articles/scrapingcognition/7973372). They are openly available and free for use, with proper attribution.

Code availability

The code used for analysis and draft figure generation can be found on GitHub (https://github.com/rdgao/WH2CogSci) and FigShare (https://figshare.com/articles/scrapingcognition/7973372). It is openly available and free for use, with proper attribution.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful to K. Cooperrider, E. Beringer, J. Núñez and P. Gagneux for valuable comments on earlier drafts of this article, and to P. Van den Besselaar and M. Cole for constructive input on methods and theory, respectively. We thank C. Gere and R. Westman for insights into the history and practice of science as well as D. Christiano, K. Lacroix, and J. Dominguez for helping with data collection.

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In the author list, M.A., R.G., C.M.R., J.R.-D. and A.S. are listed in alphabetical order. R.N. conceived and designed the overall structure of the study, organized the intellectual content of the article, was involved with data analysis and data visualization design, and wrote most of the paper with systematic input from all co-authors. C.M.R. did the analysis of the faculty Ph.D. backgrounds, wrote the draft reporting on these data and produced most of the figures, following designs conceived by the entire team. J.R.-D. and M.A. conducted the curriculum analysis. J.R.-D. wrote the draft reporting on these data and managed the work of a research assistant. M.A. wrote the supplementary information of this analysis. R.G. and A.S. conducted the authors’ affiliation analysis, performed web-page scraping and managed the computational work of two research assistants. R.G. wrote the draft reporting on these data and prepared the corresponding text for the supplementary information. R.G. performed the factor analysis and hierarchical clustering on the journal–journal citation data, produced the resulting dendrograms and wrote the drafts of the results and supplementary information. A.S. provided input regarding scientometric methods and compiled all the supplementary information.

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Correspondence to Rafael Núñez.

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Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Figures 1–4, Supplementary Tables 1–4 and Supplementary References.

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Núñez, R., Allen, M., Gao, R. et al. What happened to cognitive science?. Nat Hum Behav 3, 782–791 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-019-0626-2

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