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Collaborative interdisciplinary astrobiology research: a bibliometric study of the NASA Astrobiology Institute

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This study aims to undertake a bibliometric investigation of the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) funded research that was published between 2008 and 2012 (by teams of Cooperative Agreement Notice Four and Five). For this purpose, the study creates an inventory of publications co-authored through NAI funding and investigates journal preferences, international and institutional collaboration, and citation behaviors of researchers to reach a better understanding of interdisciplinary and collaborative astrobiology research funded by the NAI. Using the NAI annual reports, 1210 peer-reviewed publications are analyzed. The following conclusions are drawn: (1) NAI researchers prefer publishing in high-impact multidisciplinary journals. (2) Astronomy and astrophysics are the most preferred categories to publish based on Web of Science subject categories. (3) NAI is indeed a virtual institution; researchers collaborate with other researchers outside their organization and in some cases outside the U.S. (4) There are prominent scholars in the NAI co-author network but none of them dominates astrobiology.

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  1. Teams are named after the principal investigator’s institution; however, this naming is misleading because these teams are in fact a consortium of researchers from different institutions which create distributed networks. For instance, the Pennsylvania State University Team has researchers affiliated with 40 other institutions in addition to the Pennsylvania State University (41 institutions in total) or the Virtual Planetary Laboratory at the University of Washington Team members are affiliated with 25 institutions all over the world. In addition, a researcher can contribute to more than one team.

  2. The reason for using journal category is the assumption that certain journals have certain audiences based on their category. Publishing in a different category means reaching out to a different audience, hence a proxy for multidisciplinary interaction.

  3. In this section “Astronomy & Astrophysics” is the Web of Science Subject Category—not the journal title.

  4. Betweenness centrality is a more useful measure (than just connectivity) both the load and importance of a node. The former is more global to the network, whereas the latter is only a local effect. The thickness of the lines (edge) shows the degree of connection between the two nodes. The size of the node is the frequency of publications in that domain. The color of the line is the year of publication. Pink Circle means that that node is pivot node—that is the node that makes the interdisciplinary connection. These nodes are strategically important in pulling other nodes together; they have the highest betweenness centrality which is an indicator of a node’s ability to make connections to other nodes in a network (Chen et al. 2008, p. 238).

  5. Here astro-, geo-, and bio- sciences are used in the broadest, most general sense.


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This study was supported by the NASA Astrobiology Institute. In addition, we would like to thank to Thomson Reuters for making their relevant bibliometric datasets available to us.

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Correspondence to Zehra Taşkın.

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Taşkın, Z., Aydinoglu, A.U. Collaborative interdisciplinary astrobiology research: a bibliometric study of the NASA Astrobiology Institute. Scientometrics 103, 1003–1022 (2015).

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