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Who’s Your Academic Buddy? New Study Suggests How Fields Are Intertwined

University leaders often talk about the need to break down academic silos on campuses, but they don’t necessarily have a good road map for doing it.

A study led by researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory may have now provided them with one.

The researchers tracked the usage patterns at thousands of online scientific journals to see when a reader looking at an article in one academic field moved over to an article in another academic field. The researchers then compiled that data to make a detailed graphical chart showing the interconnected relationships between the various academic fields.

The result, published in PLoS ONE, is a colorful pattern of dots and connecting lines, of varying sizes and density, intended to give a visual sense of which scientific fields have close levels of interdependence with one another.

The study was based on more than 300 million Web-site user interactions at more than 97,000 publications, mostly scholarly journals. The use of Internet “clickstream” data gives the map greater reliability than previous attempts to map relationships between academic fields based on a more traditional analysis of authors’ article citations, said the study’s lead author, Johan Bollen of Los Alamos.

The map is also more than just a matter of academic curiosity, Mr. Bollen said. Such clickstream maps of science, he said, “can offer an immediate perspective on what is taking place in science and can thus aid the detection of emerging trends, inform funding agencies, and aid researchers in exploring the interdisciplinary relationships between various scientific disciplines.”

The findings also suggest, Mr. Bollen said, that the social sciences and the humanities don’t get the inspirational credit they deserve when their contributions are viewed through traditional citation data. —Paul Basken

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