Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Mapping all of science

Back in 1939, J. D. Bernal prefaced his 500-page treatise "The Social Function of Science" with these words:
"Science has ceased to be the occupation of ... ingenious minds supported by wealthy patrons and has become an industry supported by large industrial monopolies and the state. Imperceptibly this has altered the character of science from an individual to a collective basis, and has enhanced the importance of apparatus and administration."
Add the above passage to my list of retorts to proclaimers of the "dawn of emergent collaboration." Then flip ahead with me 280 pages to the one picture in the book, ambitiously titled "The Organization of Science":
Click on the picture to see the full map.

The moment I saw this map it reminded me of Katy Borner's work at Indiana University, which is part of the traveling exhibit, "Places & Spaces: Mapping Science." This exhibit includes a "Map of Scientific Paradigms" by Boyack and Klavens:What important information about "Science" is communicated by these outstanding maps? There is no simple answer to this question. For me, the most important information a map can convey is a sense of which places are close together and which are far apart. Others design their network visualization tools based on different priorities (e.g., NetViz Nirvana by Shneiderman and Aris).

Geographic cartography is already complicated enough to be a science in its own right. Network cartography is at least as complicated, thanks in large part to its indifference to the triangle inequality--the most fundamental property that mathematicians usually require of anything that purports to measure "closeness" and "farness." (See "Identity and Search" in Science for more on the subtleties of social network distance.)

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 License and is copyrighted (c) 2007 by Connective Associates except where otherwise noted.

No comments: