Events & Media

Lecture Series

James Evans, University of Chicago

Designing Diversity for Sustained Innovation


The wisdom of crowds hinges on the independence and diversity of their members’ information and approach. Here I explore how the wisdom of scientific, technological, business, and civic crowds for sustained discovery, invention, and cooperation operate through a process of collective abduction wherein unexpected findings or conflicts stimulate innovators to forge new insights to make the surprising unsurprising. Drawing on tens of millions of research papers and patents across the life sciences, physical sciences and inventions, as also interactions between diverse collaborating groups, I show that surprising designs and discoveries are the best predictor of outsized success and that surprising advances systematically emerge across, rather than within researchers or teams; most commonly when innovators from one field surprisingly publish or share problem-solving results to an audience in a distant and diverse other. This relates to other research I summarize that shows how across innovators, teams and fields, connection and conformity is associated with reduced replication and impeded innovation. Using these principles, I simulate processes of knowledge search to demonstrate the relationship between crowded fields and constrained collective inferences, and I illustrate how inverting the traditional approach to artificial intelligence approach, to avoid rather than mimic human search, enables the design of diversity that systematically violates established field boundaries and is associated with marked success of predicted innovations. I conclude with a discussion of prospects and challenges in a connected age for sustainable innovation through the design and preservation of difference in science and society.

About the Speaker

James Evans is the Max Palevksy Professor of Sociology, Director of Knowledge Lab, and Founding Faculty Director of Computational Social Science at the University of Chicago and the Santa Fe Institute. Evans‘ research uses large-scale data, machine learning and generative models to understand how collectives think and what they know. This involves inquiry into the emergence of ideas, shared patterns of reasoning, and processes of attention, communication, agreement, and certainty. Thinking and knowing collectives like science, Wikipedia or the Web involve complex networks of diverse human and machine intelligences, collaborating and competing to achieve overlapping aims. Evans‘ work connects the interaction of these agents with the knowledge they produce and its value for themselves and the system.

Evans designs observatories for understanding that fuse data from text, images and other sensors with results from interactive crowd sourcing and online experiments. Much of Evans‘ work has investigated modern science and technology to identify collective biases, generate new leads taking these into account, and imagine alternative discovery regimes. He has identified R&D institutions that generate more and less novelty, precision, density and robustness. Evans also explores thinking and knowing in other domains ranging from political ideology and misinformation to popular culture. His work has been published in Nature, Science, PNAS, American Sociological Review, American Journal of Sociology and many other top social and computer science outlets.

5th Future of the Social Sciences Conference

February 25th, 2023

The Center for the Study of Economy and Society hosted its 5th “Future of the Social Sciences” conference on Saturday, February 25th in New York City. The series brings together like-minded social scientists for cross-disciplinary discussion about new work and trends that may influence the direction of the social sciences.

At this year’s conference, we explored new work on the exchange between the humanities and social science on the mind and AI, theory and prediction of the middle range, experiments in the social sciences, cumulative advantage and the Matthews Effect, immigration and climate change, novel methods of studying the dynamics of behavioral traces and multiple triangulation in the study of social behavior.

Videos of the presentations will be shared on our YouTube channel in the weeks following the event.  A complete program can be found here and a list of participants below:


  • Laurent Dubreuil, Professor of Comparative Literature, Romance Studies and Cognitive Science, Cornell University
  • Delia Baldassarri, CSES Fellow; Professor of Sociology, New York University
  • Filiz Garip, CSES Fellow; Professor of Sociology, Princeton University
  • Victor Nee, CSES Fellow; the Frank and Rosa Rhodes Professor of Economic Sociology, and CSES Director (on sabbatical leave from Cornell University 2022-23)
  • John Padgett, CSES Fellow; Professor of Political Science, University of Chicago
  • David Strang, Professor of Sociology and CSES Acting Director 2022-23, Cornell University
  • Arnout van de Rijt, CSES Fellow; Professor of Political and Social Sciences, European University Institute, Florence
  • Sirui Wang, Graduate Student, Wharton School and McKinsey Consulting
  • Duncan Watts, CSES Fellow; the Stevens University Professor and twenty-third Penn Integrates Knowledge University Professor, University of Pennsylvania
  • Cristobal Young, Associate Professor of Sociology, Cornell University

CSES Fellows

  • Paul DiMaggio, Professor of Sociology, New York University
  • Barnaby Marsh, Fellow, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University


  • Brett de Bary, Professor of Comparative Literature, Modern Japanese Literature and Asian Studies, Emerita, Cornell University
  • Maurizio Catino, Professor of Sociology, University of Milano-Bicocca
  • Laurent Ferri, Curator and Adjunct Associate Professor, Cornell University
  • Barum Park, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Cornell University
  • Patricia Young, Program Manager, Institute for European Studies, Cornell University

All is not well for Ukraine

Stephen Bryen

The delivery of tanks, advanced air defense systems and potentially long-range ground-launched bombs may be a response to Ukraine’s dire requests, but it also brings with it a new load of problems.

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Ending the War of Attrition in Ukraine

Jeffrey D. Sachs

“Wars often erupt and persist because of the two sides’ miscalculations regarding their relative power. In the case of Ukraine, Russia blundered badly by underestimating the resolve of Ukrainians to fight and the effectiveness of NATO-supplied weaponry. Yet Ukraine and NATO are also overestimating their capacity to defeat Russia on the battlefield. The result is a war of attrition that each side believes it will win, but that both sides will lose. Ukraine should intensify the search for a negotiated peace of the type that was on the table in late March, but which it then abandoned following evidence of Russian atrocities in Bucha – and perhaps owing to changing perceptions of its military prospects.

The peace terms under discussion in late March called for Ukraine’s neutrality, backed by security guarantees and a timeline to address contentious issues such as the status of Crimea and the Donbas. Russian and Ukrainian negotiators stated that there was progress in the negotiations, as did the Turkish mediators. The negotiations then collapsed after the reports from Bucha, with Ukraine’s negotiator stating that, “Ukrainian society is now much more negative about any negotiation concept that concerns the Russian Federation.” 

But the case for negotiations remains urgent and overwhelming. The alternative is not Ukraine’s victory but a devastating war of attrition. To reach an agreement, both sides need to recalibrate their expectations.”

Read the full article in Project Syndicate here.  Jeffrey D. Sachs is University Professor and Director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University as well as an External Board member of the Center for the Study of Economy and Society.


Busting a Myth about NATO and Ukraine

Richard W. Miller

A widespread misconception of NATO’s relation to Ukraine has been sustained by silence in news sources and falsehoods by pundits. According to this myth, the NATO-Ukraine connection, prior to Russia’s current horrific invasion, was a matter of Ukraine’s asking to join and NATO’s not saying “No.” In fact, over the last fourteen years, NATO’s conduct has gone far beyond openness to eventual admission, in engagements that have included extensive and expanding joint military operations in Ukraine. This involvement, which was accompanied by US effor

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“A hardhitting economic sociology would attempt to draw on the best of sociology and economics, and to unite interests and social relations in one and the same analysis.”— Richard Swedberg