A network of science: 150 years of Nature papers

A network of science: 150 years of Nature papers

This is Nature’s publication record. 150 years of interconnected research represented
by the majority of Nature’s papers. A snapshot of the ever growing web of
collaboration and discovery that is science. Each dot is a paper. The colour represents the field –
yellow for Earth and space science, green for physics, and so on. Two papers are connected if
a third references them both. Using these simple rules, scientists
built the network paper by paper. Let’s start from the beginning, 1869. These are the early days
of science publishing. Back then, papers didn’t
exist as they do today. Rather, they took the form of
correspondence, popping up sporadically. But over time, things change. They start to cluster together into
disciplines – communities emerge. In 1986, the discovery of
high-temperature superconductors leads to a blossoming of similar papers in
Nature, shown here in green. It was a field which would continue to grow throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Back to the 1930s now. The two World Wars lead to an
increase in nuclear physics research as nations race to split the atom. And this too is reflected in
Nature’s publication record, as nuclear physics papers
cluster together in the 30s and 40s. And there – that’s a paper putting forward
a concept in genetics called canalisation. It was published in 1942, but
remained largely uncited for decades – that is, until the late 90s when new
discoveries led to it finding new relevance. Each paper takes its place in this network
of Nature, but that’s just the beginning. Every discovery is built on the work
which precedes it and then in turn forms the foundations of the discoveries
of the future, and we can see that too. Let’s take Watson and Crick’s seminal paper
on the structure of DNA as an example. Here it is. Below it is every paper that it referenced,
not just Nature papers, every paper. Then every paper that those
papers referenced and so on. Above it is all the papers that built their work
based on Watson and Crick’s discovery. At the centre are the most highly cited papers,
orbited by those with fewer connections. By looking from either end,
we can see the fields cluster together. Let’s look at the papers
referenced by Watson and Crick. As well as biomedical science, there
are contributions from other fields. Chemistry and physics feed into
the discovery of the double helix. After publication, the picture
looks somewhat different. The structure of DNA formed a springboard
for engineering and technology research. There are clusters of mathematics papers, even
studies from the humanities and social sciences. Every paper has its own story, its own unique network and each of those networks
connects to others to form a whole. Every paper in every field playing their part
in the global process of research and discovery. Over 150 years, Nature
too has played its own small part, contributing its publication record to the great, interconnected network of science.

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12 thoughts on “A network of science: 150 years of Nature papers

  1. Now we need an AI that can study and absorb all this knowledge at once, to be able to filter, aggregate and build on top of it all…

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