Jacob Foster

Assistant Professor


Contact Information

Email    foster@soc.ucla.edu
Office  204 Haines Hall
Phone  310-825-1031
I am interested in the birth, life, and death of ideas.

How are new ideas born? Why do some spread? What role do ideas play in organizing social structures? And how do social structures affect the genesis, diffusion, and ultimate extinction of ideas? My empirical work focuses on computational approaches to the sociology of science. I blend network analysis, complex systems thinking, and data-driven probabilistic modeling with the qualitative insights of the science studies literature to probe the strategies, dispositions, and social processes that shape the production and persistence of scientific ideas. I also develop formal models of scientific behavior and the evolutionary dynamics of ideas and institutions. Fundamentally, I aim to understand the social world as constituted by, and constitutive of, ideas, beliefs, and practices. Science provides an excellent “model organism” for this endeavor. My approach is strongly informed by research on complex systems and biological and cultural evolution.


BS, Physics, Duke University; PhD, Physics, University of Calgary

Selected Publications

Foster JG, Rzhetsky A, Evans JA (forthcoming, October 2015) Tradition and innovation in scientists’ research strategies. American Sociological Review.

Shi F, Foster JG, Evans JA (2015) Weaving the fabric of science: Dynamic network models of science’s unfolding structure. Social Networks 43: 73-85.

Vilhena DA, Foster JG, Rosvall M, West JD, Evans JA, Bergstrom CT (2014) Finding cultural holes: How structure and culture diverge in networks of scholarly communication. Sociological Science 1: 221-238.

Evans JA, Foster JG (2011) Metaknowledge. Science 331(6018): 721-725.

Foster JG, Foster DV, Grassberger P, Paczuski M (2010) Edge direction and the structure of networks. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 107(24): 10815-10820.

Foster JG, Foster DV, Grassberger P, Paczuski M (2007) Link and subgraph likelihoods in random undirected networks with fixed and partially fixed degree sequences. Phys. Rev. E 76: 046112.