Wired Science highlighted a new effort in “mapping” science – a map representing clickstreams of searches that shows connections between fields. It’s an effort of a team at the Los Alamos National Laboratory that was recently published in PLoS ONE. A main distinction of this work compared to others (examples can be found at Maps of Science and Places and Spaces), is that it analyzes web searches, and other maps have tracked journal citations. Both are useful, but there is an important difference. The citation traffic highlights what scientific communities consider important in their specific fields, and the search traffic focuses more attention on connections between knowledge clumps.
I like this kind of work, and the other mapping exercises like those sampled in the Wired Science post, because I don’t think enough attention is paid to the interrelationships between clumps of knowledge. And because often the research questions that spawn those clumps of knowledge aren’t the same questions as policy questions, maps showing possible connections have the potential to guide policymakers to more relevant knowledge, or to identifying gaps in knowledge, than through a traditional literature search.