Have you seen the Map of Science? This study, published a few months ago in PLoS One, analyzes the relationships between scientific disciplines based on clickstream data from over a billion user interactions with online databases and publications. Data spanned a period from 2006-2008, making the analysis almost real-time, and much more timely than citation analyses. Participating data providers were: Thomson Scientific (Web of Science), Elsevier (Scopus), JSTOR, Ingenta, University of Texas (9 campuses, 6 health institutions), and California State University (23 campuses).

The resulting map is remarkable, both as a striking visual representation of data, and for the subsequent connections it illustrates. By illustrating the links between the different areas of interest for information consumers, the researchers hope to eventually produce models that “explain the online behavior of scientists and how it relates to the emergence of scientific innovation”. These innovations can be revealed in the “unexpected relations between scientific domains that point to emerging relationships that are capturing the collective interest of the scientific community—for instance a connection between ecology and architecture,” according to the Los Alamos National Laboratory release on the paper.

Bollen and colleagues were surprised by the map’s scope and detail. Whereas maps based on citations favor the natural sciences, the team’s maps of science showed a prominent and central position for the humanities and social sciences, which, in many places, acted like interdisciplinary bridges connecting various other scientific domains. Sections of the maps were shaped by the activities of practitioners who read the scientific literature but do not frequently publish in its journals.

Hmm… practitioners like librarians, perhaps?