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Measuring Researchers’ Interest to Solving Major Problems of the Present Day

On 2 and 11 July, 2013 the Higher School of Economics hosted expert workshops “Promising S&T development areas: analysis of research fronts”, organised by the ISSEK’s International Laboratory for Science and Technology Studies. The debates’ results will be taken into account in the course of building the national system of technology foresight.

On 2 and 11 July, 2013 the Higher School of Economics hosted expert workshops “Promising S&T development areas: analysis of research fronts”, organised by the ISSEK’s International Laboratory for Science and Technology Studies. The debates’ results will be taken into account in the course of building the national system of technology foresight.

The theory-and-practice workshops for Foresight experts held in the first decade of July shared not just the topic — “Promising S&T development areas: analysis of research fronts”, but also the focus of the discussions: bibliometric analysis of Russian researchers’ publication activity (indexed in Web of Science) to determine research fronts.

Research fronts are built to determine priority R&D areas showing a sharp increase of interest from researchers specialising in different fields, which potentially may indicate emergence of new promising research areas. The research fronts methodology is based on cluster analysis of co-citation, which uses co-citation of numerous academic texts as an indicator of publications’ semantic proximity. Such analysis allows to reveal the intellectual structure of science, and connections between various research areas.

The workshops’ participants included representatives of N.E. Bauman Moscow State Technical University, Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, K.E. Tsiolkovsky Moscow Technological University, National Research Nuclear University (MEPhI), M.V. Lomonosov Moscow State University, and several other research centres. During the first workshop the experts discussed a list of research fronts in physics and chemistry, during the second — in medicine and biology.

Each session started off with a framework presentation describing specific features of the research fronts methodology. At the first workshop this presentation was delivered by Alexander Sokolov, director of the ISSEK’s International Research and Educational Foresight Centre; at the second — by Yulia Markova, leading researcher at the ISSEK’s International Laboratory for Science and Technology Studies.

Dirk Meissner, deputy head of this laboratory, presented a paper on key R&D development trends, also providing certain reference points for applying the research fronts methodology. Dirk stressed the fact that many of the promising studies — and, accordingly, research fronts — have interdisciplinary nature. Therefore the focus of expert discussions in the area of S&T foresight shifts from identifying research priorities to analysing global challenges and finding solutions for major problems we’re likely to face in the long term. This change of basic objectives definitely affects organisation of Foresight studies. Dirk Meissner described the most important of these changes: Foresight studies are currently conducted regularly and on a large scale practically everywhere; their results are actively implemented in the decision-making systems, specifically by public authorities; the number of interdisciplinary and industry-specific projects, foresights and road maps for development of sectors of the economy and large corporations is growing. The tools are being optimised, in particular, original research schemes are developed, which allow to strengthen the expert base and form integrated visions of the future; methodology is changing (e.g. qualitative and quantitative techniques are used in a more integrated way); new tools and solutions are actively used, primarily ICT-based ones.

Yulia Markova described modern approaches to automated processing of large volumes of bibliometric data to identify promising, increasingly popular research areas, which would have been difficult to spot using traditional search techniques. Yulia noted that semantic proximity of analysed publications allows to identify, based on large numbers of scientific texts, the spheres attracting direct interest of researchers in the most promising areas, and to measure the academic community’s interest to arising problems. Ongoing monitoring of researchers “interest” arms experts and decision-makers with knowledge of relevant research areas.

At both workshops were presented results of bibliometric analysis of Russian scientists’ publication activity (indexed in Web of Science) in the scientific fields under consideration, conducted by the HSE. The participants were invited, on the one hand, to assess how comprehensive the suggested lists were, and on the other, use them to define priority R&D areas.

In the course of evaluating the presented research fronts, the expert panels’ members composed a list of priority areas for basic and applied research, where Russia has both a significant potential and good prospects for developing innovative products and services. About 150 key breakthrough S&T areas were identified altogether; specifically, in liquid plasma physics, the participants selected the following topics: plasma containment and thermonuclear fusion, dusty plasma crystals, and quantum plasma. In neurobiology, memory research and application of computer technologies were selected.

Generally, the workshops’ participants gave high marks to the results obtained via bibliometric analysis. The expert discussions’ results will be taken into account in the course of developing national system of technology foresight.

Prepared by Sergei Zhikharev