Research Fronts 2022 highlights hot and emerging fields, including vaccine hesitancy, ‘mega-fires’ and asteroids [Report]

To highlight fast-moving and emerging specialty areas of science, Clarivate™ has once again partnered with the Chinese Academy of Science (CAS) on a special report on the hottest fields in science, including data on the regions and institutions producing the work. The latest annual edition, Research Fronts 2022, marks the 9th collaboration between Clarivate and the CAS. Read the new report now.

The latest report, like its predecessors, bases its findings on Research Fronts™, which are self-organizing clusters of related research identified by citation analysis. Research Fronts form when clusters of highly cited papers are frequently cited together. This pattern of “co-citation,” as it’s known, indicates that the papers share a cognitive link or point of commonality, such as a concept, hypothesis, method or experimental data. With the co-cited papers serving as a foundational “core,” the other component of a Research Front consists of the subsequent papers that cite the core. These citing papers offer insights into how a given specialty area is progressing and evolving.

A dynamic view

A unique advantage of Research Fronts is that identifying these “nodes” of specialized activity does not depend on the judgements of human indexers or analysts. Rather, researchers themselves define these fronts, when they decide upon the most pertinent and significant work to cite. In this way, Research Fronts provide a more dynamic and “organic” perspective on how specialty areas form, grow, branch out, merge with other disciplines, and, possibly, dissipate, as new citation-based groupings reveal themselves.

This dynamic view of the research landscape is invaluable in providing knowledge and foresight to policymakers and administrators in governmental, academic and commercial settings, as well as to anyone with an interest in the latest areas of concentration and activity in science.

As in past reports, analysts from the Institute of Strategic Information within the Institute of Science and Development, and the National Science Library of the CAS, collaborated with bibliometric experts from Clarivate, turning to the Essential Science Indicators™ database, which is built on the foundation of the Web of Science™ index.

Analysts first consolidated the 22 subject fields in Essential Science Indicators into 11 broad specialty areas. Starting with 12,160 Research Fronts, representing papers published and cited between 2016 and 2021, the next step was to select the fronts containing core literature that is both highly cited and recent – an indicator of particularly active and fast-moving research.

Ultimately, the analysis produced 110 fronts that are especially active, or “hot,” as well as 55 emerging fronts, with the latter selected on the basis of notably recent core literature.

In addition to listing all 165 Research Fronts across the 11 specialty areas, the report’s discipline-based chapters include detailed examinations of selected fronts, including rankings of notable nations and institutions whose contributions are central to each front’s core and citing literature.

A wide range

The latest compendium of fast-moving Research Fronts reflects a wide range of specialty areas and topics. As with the 2021 edition, this year’s roundup conveys the broad and pervasive impact of COVID-19 on global research.

Moving beyond early descriptions of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and its clinical course, the 2022 Research Fronts chronicle the ongoing search for effective vaccines and treatments. Other specialty areas focus, for example, on the side effects of COVID vaccines, and on testing wastewater for COVID virus in order to detect and monitor local outbreaks. Within the social sciences, research explores the extent and characteristics of “vaccine hesitancy,” the effect of COVID-19 on financial markets, and other psychological fallout from the pandemic.

Elsewhere among the hot fronts, environmental warnings from previous surveys are echoed in newer research. For example, a specialty area examines Australia’s “mega fires” of 2019-20, which killed or displaced an estimated 3 billion animals and torched upwards of 60 million acres of habitat. In humans, the effects of inhaling far-flung particulate matter from the fires contributed to hundreds of deaths. A warming climate and associated droughts are bound to make these fiery scenarios commonplace in the years to come – in Australia and around the world.

Other Research Fronts highlight ongoing research across the scientific spectrum. In biology, the use of artificial intelligence to predict complex protein structures in the human proteome is gaining ground. Meanwhile, in outer space, research on asteroids, including the landing of unmanned spacecraft to collect samples and return them to Earth, overshadowed Mars as a focus of scientific attention during 2016-21. In clinical medicine, a hot Research Front describing new research and new nomenclature pertaining to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease – the most common form metabolic liver disease, affecting roughly one-quarter of the world’s population – manages to stand out amid the proliferation of COVID-related research.

These examples, of course, represent only a small sampling of the 165 specialty areas specified in the report.

Fields and nations

Released concurrently with Research Fronts 2022 is the updated version of another yearly report, Research Fronts: Active Fields, Leading Countries. This report provides a deeper view of Research Front activity, including extensive and nuanced metrics on national and institutional performance in the 2022 fronts. For this analysis, we measured the Research Leadership Index of several countries for their overall performance in 11 broad research areas comprising 165 Research Fronts, and then ranked the top countries. The United States ranks first by this nation, closely followed by Mainland China, and then the United Kingdom and Germany after.

To learn more about these analyses, download both free reports here.