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Michael Banks: March 2009 Archives

The map of science (click to see full-sized image)

By Michael Banks

Do you know that when you access a research paper via a “web portal” such as Elsevier’s Science Direct your every “click” is being recorded?

Although this monitoring might at first seem a little scary and possibly unnecessary,
Johan Bollen and colleagues from Los Alamos National Laboratory have put the data to good use.

They have created a “map of science” using over a billion so-called “click-throughs” - produced when going from the web portal to the actual full text paper or the abstract on the journal’s website. The data was taken from 2007 to 2008.

After crunching the data through a so-called “clickstream model” they produced a map (see image above) with each circle representing a journal and the lines reflecting the navigation of users from one journal to another.

Maps showing the connectivity of science subjects have been made before, but they have often used citation data produced using the references in research papers. As it takes years for a new paper to generate lots of citations, the new method promises a more up-to-date map of science. This, the researchers say, can then point more quickly to emerging relationships between difference branches of science.

The researchers also created a table of the most interdisciplinary journals, produced by how many connections it has with other areas of science, which placed Science top followed by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in second place and Environmental Health Perspectives in third.

But don’t worry, as confidentiality agreements prevent any information that could show the identity of the browser being used by a third party, your privacy is protected.

higgs potrait.jpg
Peter Higgs with his portrait (credit: Callum Bennetts/Maverick Photo Agency)

By Michael Banks

As the old cliché goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. For Peter Higgs, a sighting of the Higgs boson, the sub-atomic particle he predicted over 40 years ago that is thought to give particles their intrinsic masses, would be worth more than a few words of congratulations - possibly a Nobel Prize.

But until the Large Hadron Collider starts up again later this year — or the Tevatron fails to spot the Higgs first — he will just have to make do with the picture.

A portrait of the 79-year-old physicist was unveiled on Tuesday at the University of Edinburgh showing a younger, slightly more rounded Higgs looking at the remnants of a particle collision.

The oil-painting, commissioned by the University of Edinburgh and painted by Scottish based artist Ken Currie, shows Higgs holding a pair of glasses and looking both towards the unseen artist and - as seen in the mirror behind - to the debris of colliding particles.

Speaking at the launch of the portrait at the university, Higgs said he was quite relieved the artist didn’t make him hold difficult poses for the portrait.

“It is a great surprise to me that the university wanted to paint my portrait,” Higgs said. “I would not have predicted it 30 years ago.” Indeed, he was rather busy predicting other things.


By Michael Banks

“Science is the pursuit of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence.”

That is the definition of ‘science’ according to Britain’s Science Council, an organisation representing over 30 learned and professional bodies in the UK ranging from the Royal Astronomical Society to the Association of Clinical Biochemistry.

Apparently the council has spent a whole year deciding on this new meaning to provide a distinction between genuine science and psuedoscience.

So let us look at the alternatives. According to my Chambers dictionary, ‘science’ means the “knowledge ascertained by observation and experiment, critically tested, systematised and brought under general principles, esp in relation to the physical world.”

One notices in the council’s definition that science is the ‘pursuit’ of knowledge rather than that ‘ascertained’, as well as the inclusion of the ‘social’ world.

So Physics World readers, what do you think of the definition? Can you do any better? But please don’t take one year to decide!