Monday, September 19, 2011

Only connect

A week or so ago, my online meanderings brought me to this article (in The Chronicle of Higher Education) on the fascinating work of a team led by two biologists, Carl T. Bergstrom and Jevin D. West, and a physicist, Martin Rosvall, who have developed sophisticated algorithms for weighting and mapping cross-citations between academic articles in various fields "to reveal larger patterns in the scholarly literature... tracing the flow of ideas among disciplines, or identifying fields as they take shape. For instance, using citation data from about 7,000 journals, the team pinpointed a period in 2004-5 when a distinct neuroscience literature emerged" as a stand-alone discipline (more detail on that example in this scholarly paper by the team).

The graphics they produce are strangely alluring (and, occasionally, inadvertently amusing: how can you not feel sorry for poor old 'Slavic Studies', so pitifully isolated - at least in American academe - from Literature, Linguistics, Art History, or Anthropology?!). I thought this seemed a particularly apt follow-up to this morning's quotation from Herr Einstein.

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