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  • Accepted to JASIST (January 7, 2013)

    1

    The Extraction of Community Structures from Publication Networks to Support Ethnographic

    Observations of Field Differences in Scientific Communication

    Theresa Velden*, Carl Lagoze

    tvelden@umich.edu, clagoze@umich.edu

    School of Information, University of Michigan, 4365 North Quad, Ann Arbor 48109-1285, MI, USA

    Abstract

    The scientific community of researchers in a research specialty is an important unit of analysis for understanding the field specific shaping of scientific communication practices. These scientific communities are, however, a challenging unit of analysis to capture and compare because they overlap, have fuzzy boundaries, and evolve over time. We describe a network analytic approach that reveals the complexities of these communities through examination of their publication networks in combination with insights from ethnographic field studies. We suggest that the structures revealed indicate overlapping sub-communities within a research specialty and we provide evidence that they differ in disciplinary orientation and research practices. By mapping the community structures of scientific fields we aim to increase confidence about the domain of validity of ethnographic observations as well as of collaborative patterns extracted from publication networks thereby enabling the systematic study of field differences. The network analytic methods presented include methods to optimize the delineation of a bibliographic data set in order to adequately represent a research specialty, and methods to extract community structures from this data. We demonstrate the application of these methods in a case study of two research specialties in the physical and chemical sciences.

    *: Corresponding author

    1 Introduction

    This article introduces a method for the analysis of scientific publication networks that supports ethnographic observations of field differences in scientific communication. This work is part of a larger research program to develop a mixed method approach that combines qualitative-ethnographic and quantitative-network analytic methods to systematically study and develop theoretical explanations for differences of scientific communication practices across research specialties. The emergence of the World Wide Web and adoption of web based technologies to support scientific communication has revived research interest into field differences in scientific communication practices (Kling & Kim 2000, Fry & Talja 2007). However, comparative studies of scientific fields with an ethnographic depth of understanding of research practices and social behaviors are rare (Glser 2006), and bibliometric studies provide only narrow insights into field specific practices because of the limitations of publication data to reflect underlying research and communication processes (Lievrouw 1990). The current scarcity of empirical material comparing scientific communities at the field level inhibits theory development to answer fundamental questions such as how field-specific characteristics of scientific knowledge interact with the social ordering of scientific communities (Glser 2006), and how epistemic cultures shape communication practices (Cronin 2003, Fry & Talja 2004) and attitudes towards openness and sharing (Velden 2011a).

    To advance research on these questions, we propose to bridge the methodological gap with an

  • Accepted to JASIST (January 7, 2013)

    2

    integrated approach that combines the analysis of publication networks with ethnographic field studies. Comparative studies of scientific communities at field-level face several challenges that this approach is designed to overcome. Whereas bibliographic data and the social networks constructed from them are popular objects of study in bibliometrics (e.g. Jansen et al. 2010, Lambiotte & Panzaras 2009, Guimera et al. 2005, Melin & Persson 1996, Kretschmer 1994), quantitative structural and statistical analyses suffer from a lack of explanatory power with regard to the underlying processes and their meaning to the actors involved (Glser & Laudel 2001, Lievrouw 1990). Ethnography on the other hand is well suited for generating understandings of actors, their practices and motivations, but difficult to scale. This suggests combining the two approaches (Lievrouw 1990) that hitherto have been rarely used in a truly synergistic manner. However, how local observations scale-up to and tie in with behavioral patterns at field-level is not obvious: how do behavioral characteristics at the field level emerge from local practices, and what is the domain of validity for observations made?

    The challenges posed by these open questions are exacerbated by the complexity of scientific fields as units of analysis. The salience of the research specialty1 as a self-organizing unit of researchers that is responsible for the production of new scientific knowledge has been recognized by the sociology of science in the 1960s and 1970s (Morris & Van der Veer Martens2008, Becher & Towler 2001). Those studies also highlighted the overlapping, layered configuration of research specialties, their fuzzy boundaries, and their dynamic temporal evolution. This structural complexity and temporal fluidity provides challenges for the delineation of research specialties as analytic units for comparative studies across fields (Zitt 2005), and for the valid extrapolation of local ethnographic observations of individuals and groups to the collective level of scientific communities within a research specialty.

    Rather than simply aim for the delineation of a research specialty, we suggest the development of methods that help us navigate the complexity of layered scientific communities that make up a research specialty and transcend its boundaries. In this article we report first results using network analytic methods to reveal community structures within scientific fields, thereby contributing to the literature about the mapping of research specialties recently reviewed by Morris & Van der Veer Martens (2008). Our aim is to identify scientific communities as units of analysis for comparative studies of the influence of material and epistemic characteristics of research on collaboration and communication behaviors. The identification of such units of analysis will support the scaling-up of ethnographies and the extraction of typical collaboration patterns from publication networks for meaningful comparisons of research specialties.

    This article is organized as follows: section 2 provides a review of related literature and a summary of our overall research strategy that uses a mixed-method approach to study field differences in scientific communication. The network analytic methods used in this article are described in section 3. They include methods to extract community structures from bibliographic data, and methods to support field delineation, that is the definition of an adequate bibliographic data set to extract community structures from. The extraction of community structures is achieved through the quantitative analysis of topical and social affinities between topic areas within a research specialty (section 3.4), and the visualization of community structures by geographic and topical overlay maps on field-wide group collaboration networks (section 3.5). The methods supporting the definition and preparation of the bibliographic data set consist of an approach to monitor the quality of author name disambiguation and the resulting reduction in network distortion due to name homonymy (section 4.1), and a set of heuristic methods to optimize field delineation by controlling recall and precision in the lexical query (section 4.2). We demonstrate in section 5 the application of these methods by reporting results from a case study of two fields in the physical and chemical sciences, and discuss implications of the empirical results for the methodological approach in section 6.

  • Accepted to JASIST (January 7, 2013)

    3

    2 Background

    In this section we review related work that contextualizes and motivates our efforts to develop a mixed method approach to study field differences in scientific communication, and we provide an overview of the approach as developed so far.

    2.1 Related Work We focus on three central themes in reviewing the related literature: efforts to generate a theoretical

    understanding of how epistemic differences between research specialties interact with the social organization of scientific communities, leading to field differences in communication practices; the challenges of capturing and describing scientific communities as unit of analysis in comparative studies; and motivations and strategies for a mixed method approach that combines network analysis with ethnographic field studies.

    The emergence of the World Wide Web has triggered a renewed and intensified research interest in differences between research specialties and their communication practices, and how such differences explain variation in the form and speed of take-up of new technologies to support knowledge sharing in scientific communities (e.g. Walsh & Bayma 1996, Kling & Kim 2000, Birnholtz & Bietz 2003, Cronin 2003, Kling et al. 2003, Kling et al. 2004, Nentwich 2005, Fry 2007, Hine 2008, Cana 2010). These scientific inquiries face substantial theoretical challenges, such as the open question of how to conceptualize the dynamics of change in complex socio-technical systems (discussed e.g. by Geels 2007), and the lack of theoretical understanding of differences in the intellectual and social organization of research specialties and how these differences shape scientific communication practices. What are the salient characteristi

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