Research Publication Diversity as an Indicator of Novelty and Transformative Capacity

Sunday, 15 February 2015
Exhibit Hall (San Jose Convention Center)
Stacy Rebich-Hespanha, National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA
Synthesis is an emerging method for producing transformative research, and centers to promote synthesis are on the rise in the US and around the world. New analytic tools and techniques are needed to assess the originality and transformative potential of synthesis. We propose that publications describing synthetic research will exhibit distinctive qualities that distinguish them from other publications in their fields. For example, a synthetic publication may incorporate a greater number of distinct themes, or may link themes that are not typically discussed in a single publication. To explore this possibility, we conducted a topical analysis of titles, abstracts, and keywords for approximately 400,000 articles published in 108 leading journals from the fields of Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, Biodiversity Conservation, Forestry, and Fisheries. We employed Latent Dirichlet Allocation (LDA) topic modeling to reveal a set of latent topics that describe the thematic contents of the large document set. We then described each document as a proportional combination of the discovered topics, and used the Stirling heuristics to estimate, for each document, various measures that illuminate contrasting aspects of diversity (i.e. variety, balance, and disparity). Among the corpus of documents analyzed were 1,668 publications produced by two synthesis research centers. By comparing average diversity measures for synthesis center publications with those for all other publications within the same fields we can determine whether and in what ways these new scientific organizations produce original, integrative research. We close with a discussion of how this approach may be used to identify new ideas or new combinations of ideas that are developed through synthesis research.