For the daunting task of identifying particularly active areas of current research, citation analysis provides a proven resource. The concept underlying Research Fronts (a component of the Web of Science from Clarivate Analytics) leverages a reliably enduring and imperative convention in science: the obligation of authors to acknowledge the influence of previous work by explicitly citing it. Cumulatively, and over time, these citations constitute an interconnected network – a trail by which the progress of ideas and advances, and their interrelationships, can be traced. When citations between related strains of work reach a specific concentration, a Research Front takes shape.
In 2013, Clarivate published its inaugural report examining a selection of particularly active and fast-moving Research Fronts. In subsequent years, Clarivate has partnered with agencies within the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) in producing updated versions of the report, reflecting the ever-evolving Research Front data in the Web of Science.
When citations between related strains of work reach a specific concentration, a Research Front takes shape.”
Now, featuring analysis from the CAS organizations the Institutes of Science and Development and the National Science Library, the latest version of the report has just been published. Like its predecessors, the report examines 100 Research Fronts – discrete nodes of activity whose mass and citation dynamics mark them as notably consequential areas of research. In addition to identifying established Research Fronts, the report highlights “emerging” fronts, those embodying notably new and fast-moving pockets of investigation.
Defined by citations
In contrast to the prospect of a human analyst attempting to discern order in the sprawling landscape of scientific and scholarly publication, Research Fronts offer a distinct advantage: They are identified by automated analysis of citation patterns. Specifically, a front forms when related papers are cited together at a particular threshold – or “co-cited” – by subsequent reports. This group of co-cited papers constitutes the “core” of the Research Front, with the other main component consisting of the papers that cite the core. Together, the characteristics and dynamics of the core and citing papers convey details about the Research Front in question. Fronts with comparatively recent core literature, for example, generally reflect new and fast-moving fields.
Again, the key attribute of Research Fronts is that their genesis and existence depend entirely on citations – the act of researchers themselves discerning common elements in research that, on cursory examination, may initially seem unrelated.
For the 2018 report, upwards of 10,000 Research Fronts currently found in Essential Science Indicators in the Web of Science were winnowed down to 100 established fronts and 38 emerging fronts, representing a special selection of 10 main fields of science. (An extended discussion of methodology can be found in the report.)
For the 2018 report, upwards of 10,000 Research Fronts currently found in Essential Science Indicators were winnowed down to 100 established fronts and 38 emerging fronts, representing a special selection of 10 main fields of science.”
A range of research
Not surprisingly, the report features a vast range of research. A front within Agricultural, Plant and Animal Sciences, for example, focuses on the soil layer known as the rhizosphere, a zone teeming with important interactions between microbial life forms. An emerging front, meanwhile, reflects application of the newest CRISPR gene-editing technology in crops such as rice and wheat. The field of Clinical Medicine features fronts that examine the advantage of an intensive regimen of blood-pressure control in preventing heart attack and stroke, as well as drug compounds for the treatment of chronic lymphocytic leukemia. And fronts in Mathematics, Computer Science and Engineering focus on the application of nonlinear evolution equations in examining electromagnetics and other phenomena, as well as smart cards, biometrics, and other means of remote-user authentication.
For the featured fronts, the report specifies the nations and institutions that are most active in the production of core and citing papers – in other words, the central players in each specialty area.
To access the full 2018 Research Fronts report, please click here.