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22 February, 2011

Web of Science

Inspired by work on Facebook 'friendship' mapping, Olivier H. Beauchesne has derived a fascinating map of collaborations between scientific researchers.

Leading scientific journal aggregators such as Elsevierís 'Scopus' and Thomson Reuterís 'Web of Science' obviously provide a clear record of which researchers have been joint-authors of papers, and their locations. Plotting those location-pairs generates an intriguing map.

Remember it's 'merely' a data visualisation, intended to spark discussion, perhaps inspire someone to do something really rigorous with such information, and simply to look good. It's not, itself, a presentation of definitive data; the author was plainly startled by the suggestion that some might consider it a 'roadmap' for science/technology policy development.
Possibly the biggest 'flaw' is that the dataset, though drawn from a wide array of key international journals, doesn't include all journals; I don't think one critic's complaint that only papers published by Elsevier are shown is entirely accurate (Scopus is indeed owned by Elsevier, but claims to cover 18,000 titles from more than 5,000 publishers), and whether that's why the Netherlands appears to be such a major hub, but it's worth bearing in mind.
Non-English journals may be under-represented, and almost certainly those published in, say, Chinese or Cyrillic character sets.

Also remember it's a map of collaboration on published papers, not a map of research intensity in individual locations – single-authored papers or collaborations between colleagues in the same institutions aren't shown. This may help explain the relative invisibility of Australia – does the geographical isolation of those researchers from Europe and North America affect their opportunities to collaborate?

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