Identifying Research Fronts in the Web of Science: From metrics to meaning

New ISI analysis on Research Fronts highlights the ability to identify and access leading-edge exploratory research and provide new and complementary evaluation metrics

The latest Global Research Report from the Institute for Scientific Information™ (ISI) uses clusters of citations from recently published papers to show the hot and emerging scientific topics that are currently attracting exceptional attention. The ability to find these fronts and to track emerging specialty areas of scientific research, together with the key players at the epicenter of the front, provides a distinct advantage for those who fund, monitor, support and advance the conduct of research, often in the face of finite resources.

By examining Research Fronts in the Web of Science™, it is both possible and desirable to find the foci of innovation and chance. For companies looking to create revolutionary products, the ability to identify and access a stream of innovative exploratory research and the identification of its key players as potential collaborators provides many opportunities to turn published research into a compelling competitive advantage with societal and economic impact.

Identifying Research Fronts in the Web of Science: From metrics to meaning uses science mapping and data visualization to highlight their value by using familiar examples – CRISPR, 2D Materials, and Machine Learning. It also includes testimonials from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and the Japan Science & Technology Agency (JST) have used Research Fronts to inform horizon scanning, funding focus, and research program analysis.

The new report also highlights the value of Research Fronts in providing new and complementary evaluation approaches as the ability to run computational assessment on large data sets together with advances in data visualization paves the way to modernize research conduct and measurement.

“The ISI encourages researchers and managers to perform deeper evaluations to inform and improve research evaluation and highlight topics with economic and societal impact.”

Scores and ranks have their uses but are limited in revealing many aspects of research activity and different dimensions of contributions and fuller, more informative types of assessment are now possible. The insights offered go far beyond the information derived from more traditional research performance metrics.

The report highlights the use and value of Research Fronts for:

  • Researchers. The identification of a Research Front may help to suggest how a research career might be shaped. An author, by locating their current activity, can see how close her work is to a Research Front.
  • Institutional research managers. A research manager can determine the distribution of institutional output across the knowledge landscape, filtering for recent or longer time windows, and then assess the relationship of their research clusters to Research Fronts. They can also make a comparative evaluation with competitor institutions.
  • Research funders. By identifying the distribution of publications arising from funded projects, a research agency can see whether its investments are producing work located in or near Research Fronts, or perhaps redirect funding to projects addressing emerging fronts and topics gathering exceptional peer attention. It also provides valuable information in identifying new and unpredictable scientific and technological discoveries for the basis of new industries, and with the greatest promise of innovation.
  • Policy makers. The distribution of a national portfolio in the research landscape will be of interest both for international comparisons and for the extent to which the country is engaging with Research Fronts, especially in areas related to policy priorities.
  • Publishers. The landscape location of a journal’s contents can be seen not only in the context of broad disciplines but in relation to Research Fronts as topics of exceptional current interest. Where appropriate, editorial policies can be adjusted accordingly.

ISI encourages analysts engaged in research assessment and research policy to consider the citation network as more than a tool for metrics, but as an evolving structure that reflects the changing discourse of research. Download the full copy of the report here.