Mapping research connectedness

Map of science derived from clickstream data from PLoS One
Map of science derived from clickstream data from PLoS One

I started this blog with the notion of thinking about ideas and connections, so blogging about this study published in PLoS One last week was really a no-brainer. Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory mapped the connections between research journals based on web clicks. The humanities and social sciences clump tightly in the center of the map (here’s a link to a larger version), and the natural sciences form most of the “wheel rim” around the outside.

These sorts of maps have been done before, usually by looking at citations in papers. But, as these researchers note, scientists often cite papers with a variety of motives, wanting to impress mentors, competitors, colleagues, or boosting their own citation ratings. So, actual web clicks might form a more representative understanding of scientific connectedness.

I love these maps. In fact, I was finally motivated to get myself to the New York Hall of Science for the first time to look at a special exhibit they had on display in early 2007. What I noticed then (and I notice again here) is how insulated my Ph.D. field (organic chemistry) tends to be from so many other fields even within the sciences. My writing work has organically moved me to areas of greater connection– from analytical chemistry to engineering to health. I’m enjoying my journey around the perimeter of the map, and even dipping my toes toward the arts and social science, when I get the chance.