Do synthesis centers synthesize? A semantic analysis of diversity and performance

Edward J. Hackett, Erin Leahey, John N. Parker, Ismael Rafols, Stephanie Hampton, Ugo Corte, John Drake, Bart Penders, Laura Sheble, Niki Vermeulen, Todd Vision

Research output: Working paper

Abstract

Synthesis centers are a recently-developed form of scientific organization that catalyzes and supports a form of interdisciplinary research that integrates diverse theories, methods and data across spatial or temporal scales, scientific phenomena, and forms of expertise to increase the generality, parsimony, applicability, or empirical soundness of scientific explanations. Research has shown the synthesis working group to be a distinctive form of scientific collaboration that reliably produces consequential, high-impact publications, but no one has asked: do synthesis working groups produce publications that are substantially more diverse than those produced outside of synthesis centers, and if so, how and with what effects? We have investigated these questions through a novel textual analysis. We found that if diversity is measured solely by mean difference in the Rao-Stirling (aggregate) measure of diversity, then the answer is no. But synthesis center papers have significantly greater variety and balance, but significantly lower disparity, than papers in the reference corpus. Synthesis center influence is mediated by the greater size of synthesis center collaborations (numbers of authors, distinct institutions, and references) but even when taking size into account, there is a persistent direct effect: synthesis center papers have significantly greater variety and balance, but less disparity, than papers in the reference corpus. We conclude by inviting further exploration of what this novel textual analysis approach might reveal about interdisciplinary research and by offering some practical implications of our results.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherbioRxiv, at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Number of pages38
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jan 2019

Keywords

  • synthesis
  • diversity
  • interdisciplinary research
  • semantic analysis

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