The problem

When doing a literature review at the start of a process of addressing a specific problem, it's easy to miss related material, if I don't know that it is related.

The example

Let's say I'm looking at a particular electricity-generation problem relating to pollution costs (in a very broad sense), of combustion and cooling: there might be relevant papers about, say, biodiversity and temperature in river water, that I don't know about, and haven't made the connection to, and it appears in a journal well outside the field of electricity generation.

However, within the literature, there will be authors whose papers span those fields: work on valuing biodiversity (so that loss of biodiversity represents a quantifiable cost), and the effect on biodiversity of changing river temperatures (so that using river-cooling in electricity generation, has a deleterious effect on river biodiversity).

The proposition

It should be possible, by doing an analysis of keywords, of co-authorship, and of journals, to automate the building of a network of subjects and of authors, to map out interconnections between specific narrow subject areas, and find the people that work in those interconnecting areas.

The question

Is there such a network map of subjects and authors, anywhere? Not just for this specific example, but one that spans a very wide range of literature (e.g. Engineering, Science, Technology, Economics). Ideally, one that gets updated frequently, based on ongoing publications?

As I hope the example above illustrates, it has to be:

  • easy to interrogate it;
  • very detailed on subject linkages; and
  • provide links between people as well as subjects.

3 Answers 3


Here is a subject map of science:

Subject map, Borner, K., et al, Plos One

It is taken from the following paper, freely available from Plos One:


I think that this is the sort of thing that you are interested in.

N.B. I am not a co-author, nor have I read the paper, so I make no judgment on its quality.

  • 1
    Very cool! Reminds me of an article in the Chronicle of Higher education I heard about. I wonder if some more digging will turn up an interactive online tool to make such graphs.
    – Andy W
    Sep 30, 2012 at 21:22
  • @Nicholas - no, it's not really any help, but thanks anyway - it's very pretty.
    – 410 gone
    Oct 1, 2012 at 14:47
  • @Nicholas this is the kind of thing I have been looking for - looks to be very functional
    – user7130
    Sep 7, 2013 at 20:25

There is an interactive map on Eigenfactor (a much better (arguably) way for assessing impact that mere citation counting):

eigenfactor.org - mapping science (currently, only for medicine related)

You can explore disciplines by graph of citations (i.e. which discipline cites which; it need not to be symmetric).


Generally, a researcher is current in the field, (s)he knows the top conferences and key research groups as well as what they have achieved. Often there is no space to list every paper on a certain subject anyway, so one must choose the key papers related to the topic at hand.

However, there are quite a few services that index papers by keywords or topics and authors. Scopus, Web of Science, IEEE Xplore, ACM digital library to name a few.

Search engines do a good job indexing the papers, Google Scholar and DBLP come to mind.

And finally, the social networks such as Mendeley, Linked In and Research Gate encourage the authors to list their research publications and provide search functionality.

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