Future Fields of Inquiry

Researchers propose an approach to identify new multidisciplinary interests in the sciences.

Mar 7, 2016
Tracy Vence

The authors used Google Scholar for their citation analyses, noting that its dataset “is not free of biases.”YOUTUBE, EMU LIBRARYA group at MIT has designed an approach to predict a scientist’s, organization’s, or country’s entrance into a new field. Surveying the literature and career paths of more than 200,000 scientists, the team devised a way to connect pairs of fields based on the probability a researcher had published in both.

“Data on career trajectories—the set of fields that individuals have previously published in—provide more accurate predictors of future research output . . . than citation-based science maps,” researchers at the MIT Media Lab wrote in a preprint posted to ArXiv last month (February 29). While the team reported increased accuracy using its approach to predict the trajectories of scientists and organizations, it found that citation-based maps were equally effective when assessing a country’s entrance into a new field.

Of course, most scientists and organizations aren’t able to simply change course based on predictions of future trends. “In the future, a methodology to evaluate the potential of success of an individual or organization in a field, together with the costs needed to advance research in that direction, would help provide a tool that policy makers could use to strategize the development of research efforts,” the authors wrote. “Our hope is that the methods advanced in this paper are a step in that direction.”

Hat tip: William Gunn