Characterizing Interdisciplinarity of Researchers and Research Topics Using Web Search Engines

Hiroki Sayama, Binghamton University--SUNY
Jin Akaishi


Researchers' networks have been subject to active modeling and analysis. Earlier literature mostly focused on citation or co-authorship networks reconstructed from annotated scientific publication databases, which have several limitations. Recently, general-purpose web search engines have also been utilized to collect information about social networks. Here we reconstructed, using web search engines, a network representing the relatedness of researchers to their peers as well as to various research topics. Relatedness between researchers and research topics was characterized by visibility boost-increase of a researcher's visibility by focusing on a particular topic. It was observed that researchers who had high visibility boosts by the same research topic tended to be close to each other in their network. We calculated correlations between visibility boosts by research topics and researchers' interdisciplinarity at the individual level (diversity of topics related to the researcher) and at the social level (his/her centrality in the researchers' network). We found that visibility boosts by certain research topics were positively correlated with researchers' individual-level interdisciplinarity despite their negative correlations with the general popularity of researchers. It was also found that visibility boosts by network-related topics had positive correlations with researchers' social-level interdisciplinarity. Research topics' correlations with researchers' individual- and social-level interdisciplinarities were found to be nearly independent from each other. These findings suggest that the notion of "interdisciplinarity" of a researcher should be understood as a multi-dimensional concept that should be evaluated using multiple assessment means.