The initiative based at the University of Chicago and its Computation Institute could identify past missteps while revealing unanticipated new directions for the future of research, they said.
The Metaknowledge Network will bring together social scientists, computer scientists and experts from several disciplines to explore how knowledge emerges, thrives, evolves and dies out, a university release said Tuesday.
Metaknowledge means "knowledge about knowledge" -- the study of how different scientific questions and ideas appear, mature and potentially take root.
"We have an opportunity to create a really rich science of science, one that builds on novel computational tools to exploit the increasingly widespread digital traces of the research process," said sociology professor and Computational Institute Fellow James Evans.
The initiative is being funded by a $5.2 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation.
"Most of what we know comes from putting science under the microscope -- from deep historical or ethnographic study," said Jacob Foster, a professor of sociology and member of the Metaknowledge Network.
The latest computation tools can examine the explosion of digitally available text, including journal publications, books, patents and news articles, and make it possible to study the dynamics that shape scientific research, he said.
"The central idea is, how can we take these huge data resources associated with science today -- all the publications, preprints and data that are floating around -- and use that to figure out why people ask the questions that they ask?" Evans said. "And how can this knowledge lead us to ask better questions?"