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Scientist Aims to Optimize Science through Data Analysis

Why would a school of information science have a biologist and physicist on its faculty?

Jevin D. West, assistant professor at the University of Washington iSchool and co-director of the DataLab, holds a PhD in biology and did postdoctoral work in physics. Now, West studies the “science of science.” His multidisciplinary research and collaborative projects focus on analyzing and improving the scientific scholarly communication system.

West’s “laboratory consists of millions of scholarly papers and the billions of links that connect these papers.” He said, “In particular, I am interested in the origin of scholarly disciplines and how sociological and economic factors drive and slow the evolution of science.”

image courtesy of University of Washington DataLab

West develops tools to study scholarship practices and to facilitate science. He looks at gender bias in authorship and the social factors that lead to knowledge production in science. He develops methods for evaluating scientific impact. He creates tools and techniques for mining the literature, improving discovery of relevant literature, and rethinking dissemination models.

For example, in a study of more than 8 million academic papers, West and his collaborators found that, in certain fields, women are underrepresented as sole authors and men are overrepresented as first and last authors. You can explore the data for hundreds of scientific fields using the interactive gender browser visualization tool they created.

By “turning the microscope on science itself,” West aims to keep the “powerful machine” of science running well.

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