A bibliometric reconstruction of research trails for qualitative investigations of scientific innovations Gläser, Jochen; Laudel, Grit - PDF

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A bibliometric reconstruction of research trails for qualitative investigations of scientific innovations Gläser, Jochen; Laudel, Grit Veröffentlichungsversion / Published Version Zeitschriftenartikel / journal article Zur Verfügung gestellt in Kooperation mit / provided in cooperation with: GESIS - Leibniz-Institut für Sozialwissenschaften Empfohlene Zitierung / Suggested Citation: Gläser, Jochen ; Laudel, Grit: A bibliometric reconstruction of research trails for qualitative investigations of scientific innovations. In: Historical Social Research 40 (2015), 3, pp DOI: hsr Nutzungsbedingungen: Dieser Text wird unter einer CC BY-NC-ND Lizenz (Namensnennung-Nicht-kommerziell-Keine Bearbeitung) zur Verfügung gestellt. Nähere Auskünfte zu den CC-Lizenzen finden Sie hier: Terms of use: This document is made available under a CC BY-NC-ND Licence (Attribution Non Comercial-NoDerivatives). For more Information see: Diese Version ist zitierbar unter / This version is citable under: A Bibliometric Reconstruction of Research Trails for Qualitative Investigations of Scientific Innovations Jochen Gläser & Grit Laudel Abstract:»Die bibliometrische Rekonstruktion von Forschungslinien für qualitative Untersuchungen wissenschaftlicher Innovationen«. Abrupt changes in research content are of interest to innovation research because many innovations in general and scientific innovations in particular emerge from such changes. However, investigations of innovations emerging from research processes face the problem that the initial change of direction in research by one or few researchers is an elusive phenomenon. The method presented in this article contributes to solving this problem by supporting the in-depth analysis of individual research biographies and of the emergence of new directions of research in these. The method employs bibliometric tools for a reconstruction of individual cognitive careers, embeds these reconstructions in qualitative studies of research biographies, and provides opportunities to link cognitive careers to the dynamics of scientific fields. As we will demonstrate, the method is generic in that it supports not only the investigation of scientific innovations but also, more generally, the identification of thematic change in individual cognitive careers. Two applications in qualitative research projects illustrate the potential of the method. Keywords: Methods, innovation, scientific innovations, cognitive careers, interviews, bibliometrics, bibliographic coupling. 1. The Need for Innovation Research to Analyse Abrupt Change in Research Content The method presented in this article supports the identification and analysis of abrupt change in research content. Such change is of interest to innovation research for two reasons. First, many innovations in society have their roots in scientific, social scientific or humanities research. This holds regardless of the model of innovation processes applied. Linear and co-evolutionary models of innovation processes have in common that they assign research (and abrupt changes therein) an important role in early stages of many innovations. Jochen Gläser, Center for Technology and Society, Technical University of Berlin, HBS1, Hardenbergstr , Berlin, Germany; Grit Laudel, Department of Sociology, Technical University of Berlin, FH 9-1, Fraunhoferstr , Berlin, Germany; Historical Social Research 40 (2015) 3, GESIS DOI: /hsr Second, research in the sciences, social sciences and humanities is itself driven by internal innovations that provide new research opportunities and open up new directions of research without ever leaving the research fields. These specific innovations belong to the subject matter of innovation studies. Investigating them, however, poses specific problems because all research is innovative in the sense that it creates new knowledge. For a concept of scientific innovation to make any sense, it must be used to characterise specific processes of knowledge production that can be distinguished from the incremental innovation inherent to all production of new knowledge. A possible conceptual solution to these problems, which we base this article on, is defining scientific innovations as research findings that affect the practices of a large number of researchers in one or more fields, i.e. their choices of problems, methods, or empirical objects (Laudel and Gläser 2014, 1207). Scientific and science-based innovations begin with one or few researchers significantly deviating from previous research practices, a deviation which subsequently diffuses in the community. Investigations of science-based innovations and scientific innovations face the common problem that the innovations early phase, the first change or direction in research by one or few researchers, is quite an elusive phenomenon. The fluid and shifting knowledge landscapes in which research takes place and the esoteric nature of research processes create two methodological problems. The first is a needle in a haystack problem to identify specific kinds of change in a system consisting of nothing but change. The second problem is one of empirical access. Since an innovation can be clearly identified only after change occurred at the community level, its early phase can only be investigated retrospectively. Such an investigation usually depends on information that only the few researchers involved in the early phase can provide. Thus, changes in informants research biographies during the early phase must be identified and conditions for them must be retrospectively established. Cozzens (1989) study of the discovery of the opiate receptor illustrates that individual and collective retrospective rationalisations are likely to constitute a major methodological problem for such an investigation, especially if major scientific innovations are studied. No fewer than four laboratories claimed to have discovered the opiate receptor and could plausibly reconstruct their research in a way that supported their claim. The aim of this paper is to present and discuss a method that contributes to solving these problems by supporting the in-depth analysis of individual research biographies and of the emergence of new directions of research in these biographies. 1 The method employs bibliometric tools for a reconstruction of individual cognitive careers in interviews, embeds these reconstructions in 1 This method has evolved over several years, and a first description has been presented to bibliometricians (Gläser and Laudel 2009). We gratefully acknowledge its application in several projects and helpful comments by Enno Aljets, Julien Barrier, Jana Bielick, Elias Håkansson, Robert Jungmann, Stefan Lange, Eric Lettkemann, Sarojini Martin and Richard Woolley. HSR 40 (2015) 3 300 qualitative studies of individual research biographies, and provides opportunities to link cognitive careers to the dynamics of scientific fields. As we will demonstrate, the method is generic in that it supports not only the investigation of scientific innovations but also, more generally, the identification of thematic change in individual research biographies. We begin by identifying the diachronic structures in the course of a researcher s work that constitute either the content of an innovation or at least an important condition for its emergence (2). We then discuss opportunities to reconstruct these structures from a researcher s oeuvre, and describe our method for doing so (3). Two applications in qualitative research projects illustrate the potential of the method (4). As a conclusion, we discuss limitations of the method and opportunities for its improvement (5). 2. Diachronic Structures in Individual Research Biographies The abrupt changes in research content that mark the emergence of scientific innovations can be identified against the continuity of diachronic knowledge structures. By diachronic knowledge structures we mean networks of research processes conducted at different times, which are connected through time by output-input relationships, i.e. because they build on each other. Research in the sciences, social sciences and humanities differs from much other organised work because it is embedded in such diachronic structures, which it simultaneously extends. The diachronic knowledge structure that is central to the emergence of scientific innovations emerges and operates on the individual level. It evolves in the course of an individual researcher s cognitive career because each research process uses and contributes to the researcher s evolving scientific knowledge. 2 Each project contributes to that knowledge, which in turn is used in current and future research. A researcher s problem solving processes are interlinked through this use of previously produced knowledge in subsequent research. They form research trails, i.e. sequences of thematically interconnected projects in which findings from earlier projects serve as input in later projects (Chubin and Connolly 1982). These trails not always take the simple linear form considered by Chubin and Connolly. Researchers may simultaneously 2 We developed the concept cognitive career as part of a model of academic careers. This model builds on two suggestions by Barley, namely to revive ideas of the Chicago School for the research on careers (Barley 1989) and to bring work back in the analysis of organisations (Barley and Kunda 2001). Combining both suggestions, we conceptualise academic careers as consisting of three analytically separable but closely interlinked careers, namely an organizational career, a status career in the scientific community, and a cognitive career consisting of successive stages of knowledge production building on each other (Laudel and Gläser 2008, 2011). HSR 40 (2015) 3 301 work on several different topics, i.e. have several parallel research trails (see e.g. Zuckerman and Cole 1994, 398-9; Gläser and Laudel 2007, 143). A research trail can branch out into several new trails, which are relatively independent of each other and are followed by the researcher in parallel. Research trails may also end if the researcher loses interest or does not find funding for continuing them. A similar phenomenon occurs on the level of research groups or collaboration networks. Depending on the stability of such groups or networks, they, too, may construct specific bodies of knowledge to which all projects by group or network members contribute, and which evolve in a group s cognitive career. The structure of a group s cognitive career (the network of its interlinked research trails) is mainly shaped by permanent and long-term group members. Nevertheless, all members of a group or network including transient members contribute to the group s or network s cognitive career. 3 Through these diachronic structures, previous research influences the choice of new research problems, as current research will through modifying the structures influence future choices. The evolving bodies of knowledge constitute important conditions of action for researchers. We can now further specify what we mean by abrupt changes in the content of research. The events marking the emergence of scientific innovations are likely to trigger new research trails on individual and group levels. Identifying these birth events of new research trails means identifying situations in which an innovation might have emerged, and therefore enables the in-depth investigation of these situations. 3. Bibliometric Methods for the Analysis of Cognitive Careers The diachronic structures of interest are structures of research content, which creates a major methodological challenge because the analyst rarely understands this research content. All approaches to the analysis of cognitive careers therefore depend on the analyst acquiring an understanding of the research at the level of an advanced lay person or, in the words of Collins and Evans (2002), the acquisition of interactional expertise. If this can be achieved, it is possible to obtain information about the content of research from those who are 3 Although our empirical investigation of cognitive careers of research groups just began, we would like to venture the hypothesis that group-level cognitive careers are more than the sum of individual research trails because they reflect the collective nature of the research undertaken by the group. Thus, we assume group-level cognitive careers to be emergent phenomena. For example, they might address larger topics, which are only partially represented in each of the group members cognitive careers. HSR 40 (2015) 3 302 most knowledgeable about it the researchers themselves without having to submit to the researcher s own subjective theories about what happened and why (Laudel and Gläser 2007, 2012, 8-11). Among the methods that can be used for analysing cognitive careers, bibliometric methods have the triple advantage of not requiring knowledge of research content, being objective in the sense that they do not depend on a researcher s interpretation of her cognitive career, and being based on a researcher s real-time decisions, i.e. on decisions made at the time the research took place. Bibliometric methods use properties of publications to identify the structure and dynamics of the knowledge contained in these publications. They thus exploit decisions made by researchers when they published their findings. Objectivity means here that the analysis does not depend on ad-hoc interpretations of past actions, which avoids distortions by an informant s retrospective rationalisations. This is why bibliometric methods are an excellent means for the triangulation of interview-based or ethnographic methods. However, they do not completely avoid the problem of analysing research content because the outcomes of bibliometric methods need to be interpreted and contextualised. Taking into account these methodological challenges, we use bibliometric analyses of cognitive careers to support our qualitative, interview-based investigations. The purpose of our application of bibliometric analyses is to identify research trails in the interviewee s cognitive career and to create a visual representation of these trails that can be used to explore researchers cognitive careers in interviews. This approach supports the interviewer s acquisition of interactional expertise, the discussion of research content in the interview, and the subsequent data analysis. 3.1 Bibliometric Approaches to the Reconstruction of Research Trails from a Researcher s Publications Diachronic knowledge structures are partially represented by sets of thematically connected publications. Although researchers and thus communities hold informal knowledge as well, the published (formal) knowledge consists of those knowledge claims researchers want their community to know about and use. This publicly available knowledge can be understood as the core of a community s knowledge, and can be unobtrusively studied by bibliometrics. The investigation of knowledge structures by bibliometrics is based on the assumption that thematic links between research projects are reflected in similarities between publications resulting from these projects. The identification of thematic structures in sets of publications has been one of the central concerns of bibliometrics for a long time. The search for methods has focused on the level of scientific communities (fields) and their topics (Small and Griffith 1974; Van Raan 1997, 215; Van den Besselaar and Heimeriks 2006). More recent bibliometric research was interested in the identification of hot HSR 40 (2015) 3 303 topics (Tseng et al. 2009) or emerging topics (Glänzel and Thijs 2012), and in discovering diachronic structures at the community level by tracking topics over time (Small 2006; Mark, Roberts and Natali 2010). Only few attempts have been made to investigate cognitive careers with bibliometric methods. The oeuvres of individual scientists have been analysed for a variety of purposes including - mere description (Kalyane and Munnolli 1995), - the exploration of methodological issues (see e.g. White 2000, 2001; Horlings and Gurney 2013), - the creation of quantitative profiles of individual researchers (e.g. describing the evolution of numbers of publications, citations and co-authors over time, Zhang and Glänzel 2012); and - analyses of a researcher s oeuvre aimed at the identification of field mobility (Hellsten et al. 2007). The study by Hellsten et al. is the only one that applies bibliometric methods in an analysis of research content. They used an analysis of self-citations for identifying topics in the research biography of one researcher. The other authors conducted formal analyses of citation behaviour and citedness or attempted to advance methodologies. Horlings and Gurney interviewed some of the researchers whose oeuvres they analysed in order to validate their method. Thus, in spite of some recent attempts to advance the methods for studying cognitive careers, the analysis of individual research biographies has not yet enjoyed much attention, probably because the uses of such analyses lie outside the field of bibliometrics. The methodological suggestion that is closest to ours is that by Horlings and Gurney (2013). The authors combined two measures for the similarity of publications, namely bibliographic coupling and lexical coupling. Bibliographic coupling occurs if the same publication occurs in the reference list of two other publications. The shared reference is said to bibliographically couple the two publications that cite it. The number of references shared by two publications can be interpreted as an indicator of thematic similarity. Similarly, lexical coupling occurs if two publications use the same words or terms. Horlings and Gurney used shared words in titles of papers as a second measure of thematic similarity. The authors applied the Louvain algorithm (Blondel et al. 2008) for identifying topics in researchers biographies. We followed our own prior work (Gläser and Laudel 2009) rather than the suggestion by Horlings and Gurney (2013) because the latter s proposal raises some doubts. Although the authors obtained confirmation of the clusters they produced from some researchers whose oeuvre they investigated, the method they used is likely to produce artefacts for two reasons. First, the number of papers sharing both title words and references is relatively low (Van den Besselaar and Heimeriks 2006), which may lead to small topics not being identified and connections between papers belonging to the same topic not being found. Sec- HSR 40 (2015) 3 304 ond, the Louvain algorithm used by the authors, which was developed by Blondel et al. (2008) as a method for the fast identification of clusters in extremely large networks, maximises the modularity of the clustering solution. It is not clear at all why a modularity-maximising algorithm should be applied to the analysis of a scientist s cognitive career because overlaps of trails in these careers are both likely and theoretically interesting. Horlings and Gurney found an average number of research trails per physicist of more than ten and a range of four to 33, numbers that are highly unlikely and probably an artifact of the strong criterion for thematic links and of modularity maximisation. Therefore, we are reluctant to recommend this method until further tests of its validity and reliability have been conducted. 3.2 Reconstructing and Visualizing Individual Research Trails We use bibliographic coupling for establishing paper similarities. Bibliographic coupling is today considered to be one of the best indicators of thematic similarity (e.g. Ahlgren and Jarneving 2008, 274-5). Compared to self-citations, which either link or do not link publications, bibliographic coupling provides links whose strength varies depending on the numb
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