VISION SCIENCES AS A COLLABORATIVE ENTERPRISE:
ISSUES OF MULTIDISCIPLINARITY, CONVERGENCE AND EMERGENCE

by M. Davis and C. S. Wilson

School of Information Systems, Technology and Management
University of New South Wales (UNSW), Sydney 2052 Australia,
email: m.davis@unsw.edu.au and c.wilson@unsw.edu.au


Abstract

Bibliometric indicators are used extensively to assess research performance but are generally based on single disciplines or fields and assume traditional models of how science functions. Pitfalls emerge when comparing performance across disciplines and fields particularly when indicators assume that fields behave similarly. In this paper we discuss findings from a case study of nine researchers (mainly in ophthalmology) to get more detailedd insights into the workings of part of the domain. Using bibliometric data enables a picture of a domain that may be of benefit to researchers and practitioners, a picture that might not otherwise be apparent. We discuss findings from the case study in relation to aspects of publication frequency, collaboration, interdisciplinarity and the breadth of journals in which these researchers most frequently publish.


Introduction

This paper discusses findings in relation to highly published Australian researchers in the field of ophthalmology to illustrate publication activity of high flyers over the recent nine-year period from 1991-1999. The data cover bibliometric aspects of publication activity, including range and field classification of journals used, number of articles published, average pages, references and authors per article. The collaboration patterns of these authors are also examined.

The Literature on Publication Activity in the Vision Sciences
To date, there have been few bibliometric studies of the vision sciences nor in its various sub-fields. An Australian study conducted by Australian Science and Technology Council (ASTEC, 1989) showed relative outputs in various sub-fields in a single year, 1984. The ASTEC study reveals that Australian production in ophthalmology was 1.3%. Recent work (Davis, Wilson & Hood 1999) suggests that Australia's contributions to this field have remained stable at around 2 per cent over the 1990s.

A small descriptive study of a single journal by Kumar and Akhtary (1998) examines two years of the American Journal of Ophthalmology. They examine several characteristics of the journal itself and authors' publication behaviour. Some of their findings show similar patterns to those found by our case study of outstanding Australian researchers (described below). However, this is a study of a single journal and is limited in its analysis of publication or journal characteristics.


Methods


This paper provides findings from a case study of nine highly published Australian researchers in ophthalmology over a nine-year period, 1991-1999. Case study authors were chosen from among the top-20 Australian researchers identified from 1991-95 data. Full document entries for all relevant publications were downloaded from DIALOG's files, SCI and SSCI using a search strategy of single and double initials plus surname (family name) for the authors selected for investigation. Documents retrieved were limited to articles in English. Data were extracted for the period from these records on the following variables: author position, author affiliations, article characteristics (e.g. pages, references, numbers of authors), journals used for publication, and collaboration. Data on collaboration was taken from the field "Corporate Source" by counting every line of the addresses provided and each institution mentioned. Although the corporate source field is known for partial listings of author affiliations and inaccuracy or variations of wording, it became possible to get a better understanding of internal domestic collaboration activity in contrast to international collaborations.
It should be noted that the case study authors may have published other papers in journals not represented in the ISI citation Indexes. However, we believe that the journal articles represented by the ISI Citation Indexes will be representative of overall scholarly communication patterns.


Conclusion

We have only scratched the surface to date. Our work is ongoing. Among the benefits of such a project in the domain of vision science is the potential for the research and professional community to discover a new perspective on their own domain and its sub-fields. As individual practitioners, they may not readily grasp the extent and other characteristics of disciplines or fields as a whole, or the full range of disciplinary and interdisciplinary connections. More work needs to be done on author productivity across a range of authors with different rates of publication to identify more clearly general characteristics of scholarly communication practice in the field.
The study, we believe, provides a benchmark from which changes in the field of ophthalmology, optometry and associated fields can be charted in the future. As our work progresses, data from a number of fields in the vision sciences will be added to a body of empirical studies that may shed new light into the links among disciplines, fields and sub-fields, among journals and citing authors, and among research institutions and countries that contribute to the broad literature of vision sciences. It should be possible to illustrate the extent to which researchers engage in collaborative activity beyond their own countries, the formation of new coalitions (either tightly or loosely connected) among fields, institutions or authors, and whether fields remain separated by traditional disciplinary structures. Finally, the project as it progresses will provide new analysis and interpretation on the evolving domain of vision sciences in the health, medical, physical and social sciences.


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