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Mapping the Sciences

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Web Dev

Mapping the Sciences

March 20th, 2007  · stk

An intriguing "Map of Science" shows the relationships between research topics & reveals how scientific disciplines are interrelated. Scientists will be interested to see where their specialty lies & non-scientists will be interested to compare the scientific focus of different countries. An excellent intellectual exercise in data-mining and visualization (or a grand waste of time?) You decide


Visualizing the Topical Inter-connectivity of Scientific Research -or- (Where's Dr. Waldo?)


This intriguing illuminated diagram is either an accurate portrayal of the bond that ties various scientific topics (and fields) together, or it's a result of someone having too much time on their hands.

The premise: Examine roughly a million published scientific papers for keywords, sort them by topic (or "paradigm") and note the authors that are cited, with papers from different fields. Then plot the topics as "nodes", the size of which is directly related to the number of papers published. Distribute the nodes by applying a universal repelling force between them. Then bind the nodes with an attracting force, the strength of which, is determined by the number of overlapping authors.

The result is the two-dimensional graphic shown here. There are 776 topical paradigms (nodes) with a distribution separates the purest of scientific fields and shows how sub-disciplines interrelate.

If you click on the image, above, you'll be taken to an interactive map, where you can compare the data by discipline, country (U.S. -vs- Japan), city (Paris -vs- Boston), selected industries, govt. institution [US-DOE -vs- US-NIH), or University (Harvard -vs- MIT).

Some of the comparisons are very interesting. For example, the U.S. has a real focus on medical research, while China is more prolific in physics and Japan - chemistry.

For more information on the technique, the data, resources and a detailed keyword map (find out where you sit in the scheme of things) ... read on.

Adding the Topical Keywords

The next step in the visualization process was to add the keywords found in each topical node. This are the "buzz-words" of current publications. "What's hot" in the research, if you will.

Using the keywords, one can find where their own discipline resides, in this interconnected web. I found geophysics (seismic tomography) the arrow points to. I was surprised to see that it further from math and physics, than it was to chemistry, which doesn't seem quite right.

Finding a method to include the keywords and still have them readable, was one of the challenges in making this map. You can click the image (right) for a much larger (5500 pixels X 4450 pixels; 3MB) image. (For the ultimate in readability, here's a huge PDF version, where you can zoom in [CNTL][+] and zoom out [CNTL][-], using the hand tool, to drag it around.).

GET ONE: Order a 25-inch by 24-inch print of the "Map of Science". The high-resolution (3200 dpi), 4-color, offset print is more like fine art, than a regular poster and is printed on fine paper. Cost depends on quantity and location, but can be as low as 10 USD.


Citation Analysis: A Sea of Data

The data for this visualization product, came from Thompson ISI. Dr. Eugene Garfield has been developing citation-based indexing database and analysis tools for over 50 years, to facilitate the research process, spot scientific trends and track the history of modern thought.

Whenever a scientific paper refers to another published paper, it is a citation. The number of citations a give paper has, is found by looking up a citation index and seeing how many other papers mention it. Citations are quantitative associations of scientific thought amongst published authors. By using citations, authors make an explicit link "intellectual transaction" between their current research and earlier works. The citation is a formal acknowledgement that the author has found value in a particular published theory, practice, method or earlier concept.

Citation indexing is different from traditional indexing and abstract databases because it's multidisciplinary. The ISI database also includes, not just original research papers and reviews, but also letters, corrections, retractions, editorials and other items, all of which have an impact and provide momentum to the advancement of knowledge.


Credits & Further Reading

 Book: Citation Analysis in Research Evaluation  Book: Mapping Scientific Frontiers

The work was commissioned and partially funded by Katy Borner for the Places & Spaces: Mapping Science exhibit (schedule). The research and node layout was done by Kevin Boyack (Sandia National Labs) and Dick Klavans. Data from Thompson ISI. Graphics were by W. Bradford Paley.

  1. Interactive Map of Science
  2. Seed Magazine Article
  3. More about the graphics
  4. ISI "Web of Knowledge" Database
  5. More on Citation Indexing
  6. Places & Spaces: Mapping Science exhibit (website)


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Updated: 1-Dec-2007
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