How to distinguish scientific fields: An empirical analysis of field differences
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Knowledge production is increasingly becoming the main driver for economic growth of modern western countries. Because of the shift to a knowledge based economy, knowledge production has changed over the past two decades. This knowledge transition has lead to the assumption that the differences between scientific fields are growing as well. These fields can vary in several aspects. There is no consensus of what exactly these aspects are, although the last two decades several attempts have been made to understand, analyze and explain these differences between fields. Examples of these analyses are the notion of Mode1 and Mode 2 knowledge creation (Gibbons et al., 1994), the concept of a triple helix between universities, government and industry (Etzkowitz and Leydesdorf, 1997), the model of Pasteur’s quadrant (Stokes, 1997), intellectual and social organization of sciences (Whitley, 2000), the shifts of search regimes (Bonaccorsi, 2008) and the older distinction between hard and soft sciences. However, possible correlations among concepts of these theories are never grounded with empirical evidence. The aim of this research is to find which concepts and the relationships between these concepts that distinguish scientific fields are most useful for field differentiation. Hence the research question: Which dimensions and which correlation among these dimensions are most useful for distinguishing scientific fields? The empirical data is derived by distracting scientometric indicators from scientific journals that represent 21 scientific fields which are qualitatively analyzed. There are six dimensions found in the theories being: collaboration between scientists, presence of science, industry and government, globalization, growth of knowledge production, knowledge accumulation and divergence topics. Each theory presumes a correlation between two or more of these dimensions. The results show that the more modern theories (the mode1 and mode 2 knowledge creation theory, the triple helix theory, the intellectual and social organization of sciences theory and the search regimes theory) cannot be validated by the empirical evidence. The correlations between dimensions as proposed by the more traditional theories of hard and soft sciences and Pasteur’s quadrant are more supported by empirical evidence and are thus more useful for distinguishing scientific fields. However, these do not include the transition in knowledge creation of the last two decades. This means that none of the modern theories did yet grasp the precise elements and correlations that distinguish scientific fields in the time that knowledge development is in transition. Furthermore, this study confirms that knowledge production is indeed changing, but it is hard to grasp which dimensions and which interrelation among these dimensions distinct scientific fields.