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Visualizing Science



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I found this and thought I'd share it, but had no idea where to put it on Manx Forums so thought I'd put it up on my blog.


Below is an attempt to visualize how the endevours of science are communicated between the most important scientific journals. I found it at Well-Formed-Eigen-Factor.org!


Lots of science is really only of interest to specialists, and you can see that in the tight loops of citations between journals concentrated in one particular field.


But this detailed work can then explode outward to a much wider audience - often by it being cited in the important journals like Nature or Science. It is these journals which create scientific cross links as ideas and results reinforce or challenge theories across the range of human thought.


Check out here for more info - have a play - for example find the Annual Review of Nutrition - its a tiny journal at almost exactly 9 o'clock on the diagram, and see how its work has been picked up and used by scientists working in other areas.


Ok, its nerdish, but I though it was interesting - nearly every technological object around you will have started off in a link, or a loop, like that. Every time you see a doctor or take a tablet, or download some music off the web originally there was some scientist wondering if their idea worked and telling others about it and its results.


This tries to capture the complexity of that process - amazing innit!




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It's fun, certainly! Though it has to be said that such citation metrics are often regarded with suspicion when it comes to how they claim to measure significance and communication in the sciences.


For instance, the analysis only covers eight years, which is a relatively short time frame over which to analyse citations. Many papers will continue to accumulate citations long after such a period (for example, one paper I'm looking at cites publications dating back to the 70's), and it's not unheard of for entire subdisciplines to only gain widespread recognition and garner citations years after their initial development (examples being homological algebra and combinatorial geometry).


Also, a lot of the communication of science is effectively hidden by the graphic. For instance, say an algebraicist comes up with paper X, which two physicists find useful and cite accordingly. Then suppose that twelve chemists go on to write papers using material from the phycisists' work. Now, they will cite the physicist, but might not cite the algebraicist, though their work is indirectly dependent on his or her's - the next round of citations may ignore the physicist as well, and so on. In a sense this process is represented in the diagram you include: it's notable that molecular and cellular biology and medicine are two of the biggest citation "hubs", given that these disciplines are not only vastly applicable, but, having a broad scientific basis, could also be seen as "hiding" the true degree of contributions from other disciplines. A fair example of this would be the current efforts to unify quantum mechanics with gravity, or understanding the connections between thermodynamics and gravity. Both are thought to be highly dependent upon the development of something called quantum group theory and the insights this discipline offers. Now, should such efforts prove fruitful, the papers that result will surely be justly celebrated and receive numerous citations, many more in fact that the underlying theory which is so crucial to the process - in other words, citation metrics spanning differently disciplines typically fail to convey any meaningful measure of significance (despite them often being used to this effect!) of what it seeks to represent.

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Hi VinnyK,

You offer marvelously detailed analysis and critique.

The amazing thing to a mere mortal (me), as opposed to a scientist is the intangibility of the knowledge dimension.


The diagram reveals one further dimension of some aspect or perspective of the flow of information in time. perhaps similar to the 'wheel' tracks of territorial social insects. This further dimension of knowledge is historic and therefore no longer a reality in truth.


All knowledge has this fatal trait, but we humans persist in our own dimension of temporary self delusion. Our virtual truth dimension.


God bless all, keep smiling

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A paper in the BMJ agrees with you VinnieK!


How citation distortions create unfounded authority: analysis of a citation network

Conclusion Citation is both an impartial scholarly method and a powerful form of social communication. Through distortions in its social use that include bias, amplification, and invention, citation can be used to generate information cascades resulting in unfounded authority of claims. Construction and analysis of a claim specific citation network may clarify the nature of a published belief system and expose distorted methods of social citation.

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That doesn't surprise me! I haven't met many academics who are are that happy about citation analysis or its possible use as a basis for whatever will take the RAE's place (which was already far from perfect). One particular danger is that it's going to send us even further down the route of the "publish or perish" model that's been in vogue in the US for the past couple of decades or so, only without the generally higher levels of funding and resources they have there.

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