How Neuroscience Became A Major Scientific Discipline In Just One Decade

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Using new mathematical tools, a group of researchers created a fascinating chart that shows how neuroscience went from a hodgepodge of unconnected scientific disciplines, to a unified science that's one of the most important today. In just under 10 years.

Neuroscience is the study of how neurons - nerve cells - form networks in the body. A lot of neuroscience focuses on the brain, since that's the body's nerve center, but it also looks at how nerves form networks throughout living organisms. Breakthroughs in molecular biology and cognitive science over the past decade have made this a booming scientific field.

A co-author on the study is Martin Rosvall, Assistant Professor at the Department of Physics, at Sweden's Umeå University. In a release, he said:

We wanted to map changes in science over the past decade. To do so, we started with more than 35 million citations between the articles in over 7000 scientific journals. This network of citations represents the flow of information between researchers in the world and the results show that significant changes have occurred in the life sciences. Neuroscience has gone from being an interdisciplinary research area to being a scientific discipline in its own right, ranking alongside physics, chemistry, economics, law, molecular biology and medicine.


Here you can see a chart showing the consolidation of the field, which represents data gathered from citations in academic journals. (Click image to enlarge.)

Say the researchers about this image:

This set of scientific fields show the major shifts in the last decade of science. Each significance clustering for the citation networks in years 2001, 2003, 2005, and 2007 occupies a column in the diagram and is horizontally connected to preceding and succeeding significance clusterings by stream fields. Each block in a column represents a field and the height of the block reflects citation flow through the field. The fields are ordered from bottom to top by their size with mutually nonsignificant fields placed together and separated by half the standard spacing. We use a darker color to indicate the significant subset of each cluster. All journals that are clustered in the field of neuroscience in year 2007 are colored to highlight the fusion and formation of neuroscience.


The point of the research paper, published this week in PLoS ONE, is to demonstrate a new mathematical method for analyzing changes in large networks over time. The authors say it can also be applied to other fields as diverse as medicine and finance.

"Mapping Change In Large Networks" via PLoS ONE