Neuroscience has changed and is set to continue to do so
A recent retrospective study reports that the landscape of neuroscience research has changed in terms of research topics, research journals and countries where the research has been conducted. The findings from this study are discussed below and considered important as, ‘…it enables stakeholders to quickly identify the most influential research and incorporate latest evidence into research-informed education.’
The recent study by Andy Wai Kan Yeung of the University of Hong Kong, published in the journal of Frontiers in Neuroscience, applied the principles of bibliometric analytics to the field of neuroscience to get a picture of the whole research area and to identify hot topics over the last decade as well as those in the future.
The methodology utilised by the scientists focused on publications indexed in the Web of Science and included articles or reviews published in journals under the Journal Citation Reports “Neurosciences” category and published between 2006 and 2015. Bibliometric analyses were used to address four general themes: (1) The recurrence of keywords in publications (assessed from term maps); (2) The most cited keywords (better known as annual high-impact terms); (3) The performance of core journals in the neuroscience field and annual change in publication counts; and, (4) The most productive countries in the field.
Term maps revealed the shifting focus of research which was shown to change from general brain imaging terms to more specific brain imaging terminology (e.g. cellular, molecular and genetic) as well as the emergence of terms related to neuroinflammation of microglia and macrophages in recent years. The annual recurrence rate of brain imaging terms was also high (including default mode network, functional connectivity and neuroimaging) something that can be explained by the fact that some terms are commonly used to describe an array of underlying neurodegenerative and neurological conditions. One term the authors believe is one to keep an eye on is ‘effective connectivity’, which seeks to quantify functional connectivity. Annual high-impact terms were also identified in the areas of Alzheimer’s disease and autism with the former emerging over the last three years as a high impacting topic.
Annual publication counts shows the neuroscience field has been growing linearly (more publications and more journals) over the study period and becoming more dispersed, although the so-called ‘core journals’, which Andy Wai Kan Yeung says are those that are most productive and publish one third of neuroscience papers in a year, were reported to be mostly stable. Of course, some journals improved considerably, notably Brain Research whose impact factor improved significantly, and others that were less impactful, such as the Journal of Neurophysiology and Journal of Neuroscience.
Lastly, it is perhaps no surprise that countries with a history of contribution to various topics within the field of neuroscience (i.e. neuroimaging and Parkinson’s disease) were most productive and that their contribution over the study period did not change significantly. One notable exception to the rule was the emergence of publications from China, which saw contribution share increase from 2.96% in 2006 to 11.23% in 2015.
The importance of research and its future direction always need to be contextualised to understand what insights the new work can offer the reader. With this in mind, Andy Wai Kan Yeung concluded his research by stating:
“…our findings revealed changes in the landscape of neuroscience research over the study period and provided a contemporary overview of neuroscience research for researchers and health care workers interested in this field. Brain imaging and brain connectivity have been shown to be hot topics, and Alzheimer’s disease and associated topics have recently gained traction.”
 Andy Wai Kan Yeung, Tazuko K. Goto, W. Keung Leung. The changing landscape of neuroscience research, 2006–2015: A Bibliometric Study. Frontiers in Neuroscience 2017; source: https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2017.00120