A Map of Science

by Eric Drexler on 2009/05/20

A comment on my previous post reminded me of a wonderful visualization that amounts to a map of the whole of science, generated by citation-based clustering of almost a million papers. The image above is a view of an extraordinarily information-dense representation, not just of connections among fields, but of their content. At 13,566,672 pixels, most of the text is readable. I have the printed version and examined it with a magnifying glass.

Under the title “A Map of Science”, it was featured by Nature in 2006. Here’s a description by the developers at informationesthetics.org:

As to what the image depicts, it was constructed by sorting roughly 800,000 scientific papers into 776 different scientific paradigms (shown as red and blue circular nodes) based on how often the papers were cited together by authors of other papers. Links (curved lines) were made between the paradigms that shared common members, then treated as rubber bands, holding similar paradigms closer to one another when a physical simulation forced them all apart: thus the layout derives directly from the data. Larger paradigms have more papers. Labels list common words unique to each paradigm.

Each “list of common words unique to each paradigm” forms a streaming ribbon in the image above. What the authors call a paradigm, I would call a field, or topical area (such as seismology, organometallic chemistry, cryptology, virology, and stellar dynamics), clustered within broader areas (such as geophysics, chemistry, computer science, molecular biology, and astrophysics).

At the end of my previous post, I said a bit about what I’ve learned through a huge investment of time in cross-disciplinary study. This is hard to quantify, but it was nice to find that most of the important words specific to each field across the whole of the map are familiar.

Update: In the comments, modeless at seadragon.com points to a zoomable version of the map that uses the Seadragon technology. Highly recommended for viewing the textual details.

See also:

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Patrick McCray May 20, 2009 at 6:59 pm UTC

Fascinating graphic…thanks for calling attention to it.

Scott Jensen May 21, 2009 at 4:48 pm UTC

It would be interesting to see one done on the different fields of engineering.

The Landlord May 28, 2009 at 4:37 pm UTC

That is a truely staggering piece of work. has anyone said anything / drawn any conclusions on this?

modeless August 7, 2009 at 11:31 am UTC

Here’s a zoomable version of the map at seadragon.com.

Dr. J August 8, 2009 at 7:59 am UTC

So why is the entire field of Geology (earth sciences if you like) totally missing?

Eric Drexler August 8, 2009 at 2:48 pm UTC

@ Dr. J — It’s there, but not marked by one of the large labels in the thumbnail version of the image above. The less-visible labels “Earth Sciences” and “Ecology” mark the brown peninsula pointing inward near the large label “Biology”.

The aggregate size of these is rather small, but the clustering algorithm may have put parts of geophysics with physics, parts of atmospheric chemistry with chemistry, and so on.

Eric Drexler August 8, 2009 at 3:13 pm UTC

@ modeless — Thanks, that’s very nice. I’ve noted it in the post and redirected the link from the image.

Forrest Bennett December 6, 2010 at 1:25 am UTC

This paper shows 20 different versions of the kind map shown above, and then attempts to build various consensus versions.

Toward a Consensus Map of Science
Richard Klavans and Kevin W. Boyack
Journal of the American Society for Information Science and
Technology (2009), vol. 60(2), pages TBD. Digital Object Identifier: DOI: 10.1002/asi.20991

A consensus map of science is generated from an analysis of twenty existing maps of science. These twenty maps occur in three basic forms: hierarchical, centric, and non-centric (or circular). The consensus map, generated from consensus edges that occur in at least half of the input maps, emerges in a circular form. The ordering of areas is as follows: mathematics is (arbitrarily) placed at the top of the circle, and is followed clockwise by physics, physical chemistry, engineering, chemistry, earth sciences, biology, biochemistry, infectious diseases, medicine, health services, brain research, psychology, humanities, social sciences, and computer science. The link between computer science and mathematics completes the circle. If the lowest weighted edges are pruned from this consensus circular map, a hierarchical map stretching from mathematics to social sciences results. The circular map of science is found to have a high level of correspondence with the twenty existing maps, and has a variety of advantages over hierarchical and centric forms. A one-dimensional Riemannian version of the consensus map is also proposed.


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