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Ideas That Bind

by Moderator 10 Sep, 2009 in Technology

by David Kaiser (MIT) and Luis Bettencourt (LANL)

For some time, we and OSTI have been interested in the question of how new scientific ideas spread. What does it take for the "next big thing" to leap from one person's head to an active community of researchers? Do those shared ideas or techniques bind the community together more tightly than before, perhaps even helping to define a new research field that didn't exist before? And if so, how might we detect and measure such shifts in the space of researchers and ideas?

One interesting possibility is to study changes in the structure of collaboration networks over time. For example, imagine that Alice writes a scientific article with Bashir. Some time later, Bashir writes a different article with Carlos, while Alice writes a new paper with Dwayne. Those four authors are now connected by co-authorship links: Alice directly with Bashir and Dwayne, and--thanks to Bashir's separate article with Carlos--Alice and Carlos are connected, too. We may call that collection of nodes (authors) and links (co-authorship ties) a collaboration network.

We might expect that the pattern of change over time in these collaboration networks would vary widely with scientific field or discipline. After all, articles in theoretical physics tend to have far fewer co-authors than do articles on biomedical topics. Fields also have different average rates at which researchers write articles in any given year. And yet we have found some surprising regularities lurking beneath what otherwise appear to be rather different modes of behavior.

We have published some of these findings in a recent paper--L. Bettencourt, D. Kaiser, and J. Kaur, "Scientific discovery and topological transitions in collaboration networks," Journal of...

Related Topics: co-authorship, collaboration, information flow, networks