MONITORING COMPLEX LITERATURE: THE ADVANTAGES OF USING A MULTIDISCIPLINARY DATABASE

This article was written when Thomson Reuters was known as the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI)

Finding a self-contained topic in science is difficult these days. One topic will touch on another, which will in turn bridge a gap between disciplines, and so on. Interconnections among disciplines abound. Fortunately, Thomson Reuters Science Citation Index® (SCI®) is a convenient tool for navigating through the multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary literature.

One of the practical advantages of using the SCI for a literature search is that it has always taken these interconnections into account. The search strategies are not limited to keywords or phrases, but can be directed to include the connections created through the references made by the authors of a given article as well as the citations to that article by authors of subsequent articles. (As you will recall from previous essays, the cited work is a paper or book that has been mentioned in the references of other works, and the citing work is the one that contains the references.) The intricate web of connections that results can reposition a topic by virtue of its ties to other fields.

The multidisciplinary nature of the SCI is a benefit to researchers in many fields. This is especially true for complex biotechnological and pharmaceutical studies.

 

Interconnections in Science

Science and the way that it is done today are multidisciplinary. Charles H. Townes, the physicist whose work in the 1950s led to the invention of the laser, pointed out in a 1993 talk to an International Astronomical Union symposium that, "in a sense, every science is multidisciplinary because almost every subject calls upon ideas from many different disciplines."1 He further notes that because basic science is often integrated with applied science, an additional level of interactions between different specialties occurs.

Looking at the situation from a slightly different view, Kenneth S. Marsh of the Institute of Food Technologists stresses that research programs must be built upon the evidence from published papers because "the literature from multiple fields needs to be explored."2 To illustrate this continuous trend toward multidisciplinary studies, let's do a search based on an article about genetic engineering in food technology.

A Literature Search on Genetic Engineering

Consider the much debated topic of the genetic engineering of tomatoes. To gauge its interconnections, I checked the SCI to determine what the 1989 article by M.W. Lassner et al.3 cited as well as the articles that cited it. Then I looked at the articles that the latter group referenced. In other words, I used the SCI® to begin a cycling process which traces this article backwards and forwards in time.

Journals Cited by Lassner's Article. The article, which was printed in Molecular and General Genetics, cites 24 articles from 14 different journals. The journals range from Analytical Biochemistry to Theoretical and Applied Genetics. The disciplines covered include biochemistry, genetics, and plant biology.

Journals Citing Lassner's Article. Citations to the article began appearing in 1989 and have continued each year since. The journals in which they appear include Biotechnology, Genetics, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S.A., and Annual Review of Plant Physiology and Plant Molecular Biology. The pure sciences of biology and chemistry are well represented, as well as the fields molecular biology, biotechnology, and agriculture.

Journals Cited by Citing Authors. Looking at the other articles mentioned in the citing articles just discussed, the journals represented are as diverse as Tomato Crop, Nucleic Acid Research,Molecular Cloning, Journal of General Virology, Agricultural Biotechnology News Information, Safety Assessment, Current Opinion in Genetic Development, Regulatory Considerations, Journal of Bacteriology, Developmental Genetics, Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics, Methods in Enzymology, Protein Engineering, Horticultural Biotechnology, and Heredity. Not only are disciplines such as virology, bacteriology, and enzymology introduced, but also social considerations such as safety and viewpoints.

The interplay of many disciplines on a single project today is commonplace and some believe accounts for the large number of breakthroughs that might not occur in narrower approaches. Research teams today often include experts from a number of fields, just as the modern health care team often includes practitioners from a number of different specialties and subspecialties.4 The more comprehensive the combined sources of knowledge and skill, the better the chance for a favorable outcome. Integrating the literature of these diverse areas in pure and applied science is a fundamental tenet of SCI coverage.

Conclusions

The multidisciplinary nature of science is aptly matched with the multidisciplinary content of the SCI. In fact, the multidimensional and chronological cumulative character of the SCI makes it even better suited to many literature searches involving complex scientific topics. Today most research touches a variety of disciplines and methodologies. And often the social implications are important to recognize. To be fully cognizant of these interconnections, the researcher can look to the SCI and its companion Social Sciences Citation Index® (SSCI®) as comprehensive sources of information.

Dr. Eugene Garfield
Founder and Chairman Emeritus, ISI


References

1.Townes C H. Surprise and sociology in multidisciplinary sciences. Curr. Sci. 66(2):116-22, 1994.

2.Marsh K S. Computerized data retrieval for multidisciplinary research. Food Technol. 48(6):95-8, 1994.

3.Lassner M W, Palys J M, Yoder J I. Genetic transactivation of dissociation elements in transgenic tomato plants. Mol. Gen. Genet. 218(1):25-32, 1989.

4.Huffman M C. Family physicians and the health-care team. Can. Fam. Phys. 39:2165-70, 1993.