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James Evans

Professor, University of Chicago; External Professor, Santa Fe Institute

My research focuses on the collective system of thinking and knowing, ranging from the distribution of attention and intuition, the origin of ideas and shared habits of reasoning to processes of agreement (and dispute), accumulation of certainty (and doubt), and the texture—novelty, ambiguity, topology—of human understanding. I am especially interested in innovation—how new ideas and practices emerge—and the role that social and technical institutions (e.g., the Internet, markets, collaborations) play in collective cognition and discovery.

Much of my work has focused on areas of modern science and technology, but I am also interested in other domains of knowledge—news, law, religion, gossip, hunches and historical modes of thinking and knowing. I support the creation of novel observatories for human understanding and action through crowdsourcing, information extraction from text and images, and the use of distributed sensors (e.g., RFID tags, cell phones).

I use machine learning, generative modeling, social and semantic network representations to explore knowledge processes, scale up interpretive and field-methods, and create alternatives to current discovery regimes. My research is funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Templeton Foundation and other sources, and has been published in Science, American Journal of Sociology, Social Studies of Science, Administrative Science Quarterly, PLoS Computational Biology and other journals. My work has been featured in Nature, the Economist, Atlantic Monthly, Wired, NPR, BBC, El País, CNN and many other outlets.