Scientific Journals as Fossil Traces of Sweeping Change in the Structure and Practice of Modern Geology

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science studies, big science, twigging, lunar exploration


In our attempts to track changes in geological practice over time and to isolate the source of these changes, we have found that they are largely connected with the germination of new geologic subdisciplines. We use keyword and title data from articles in 68 geology journals to track the changes in influence of each subdiscipline on geology over all. Geological research has shifted emphasis over the study period, moving away from economic geology and petroleum geology, towards physics- and chemistry-based topics. The Apollo lunar landings had as much influence on the topics and practice of geological research as the much-cited plate-tectonics revolution. These results reflect the barely-tangible effects of the changes in vocabulary and habit of thought that have pervaded the substance of geology. Geological literature has increased in volume and specialization, resulting in a highly fragmentary literature. However, we infer that “big science,” characterized by large amounts of funding, collaboration, and large logistical investments, makes use of this specialization and turns “twigging” into a phenomenon that enhances, rather than inhibits, the enterprise of research.

Citation / Publisher Attribution

Journal of Research Practice, v. 4, issue 1, art. M1

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