New Ways of Accessing Scientific Knowledge

Published on: 29th June 2017

What scientific questions are the public asking? What areas are emerging within the research community? What data should be used to answer these questions? How should findings be distributed to achieve maximum impact?

There is an enormous amount of information available to researchers in the form of websites, articles and other text based information which makes the task of answering these questions both overwhelming and confusing.

Typical reviews of the scientific literature take time and other resources because thousands of papers have to be manually trawled. During this process, it can be difficult to see emerging patterns, and important information can be missed.

Based at Swansea University, Athanasios Anastasiou and Karen Tingay from Farr Institute Swansea and ADRC Wales are trying to sift through the noise by combining Big Data with techniques from the fields of bibliometrics and scientometrics. They are focusing on using informatics to develop more structured and evidenced based ways of making decisions, which make use of a much wider knowledge base.

Bibliometric techniques (the statistical analysis of books, articles, or other publications) usually analyse individual publications, while scientometrics (the study of measuring and analysing science) looks at content across multiple publications. These methods help researchers see patterns which they can then use to structure their work.

The primary data sources that provide answers to these questions are peer reviewed journal articles, government decision papers, and social media which are mined to collate patterns, topics trends, data sources and emerging techniques.

To date, Karen and Athanasios have worked with techniques trying to address questions such as which datasets are most useful to answer research questions, or which research topics and emerging trends are currently most popular in particular areas of science. This will help scientists make more effective use of resources by investing in only the most useful datasets, and answering research questions that are particularly valuable to policymakers, the public and the wider scientific community.

They commented “we recently analysed areas of emerging research in Alzheimer’s disease. We looked at research conducted by Dementias Platform UK (DPUK) and by the wider Alzheimer’s disease research community. Our results revealed patterns and topics which were trending in research literature, such as: depression, young adults, biomarkers, and mild cognitive impairment. We were able to clearly highlight areas which DPUK and other Alzheimer Disease cohorts might want to focus on.”

The team’s work is focusing in developing automatic ways of identifying areas of interest with a large potential in assisting in policy development, steering research focus and maximising impact. Their methods have attracted the interest of PhD students, researchers writing grant proposals, national and international multi-cohort studies, lecturers, and government research departments.

For more information, contact Sarah Toomey, Farr Communications Officer, Swansea University, s.toomey@swansea.ac.uk

Back to top+