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Transformations in Breakthrough Research: The Emergence of Mirnas as a Research Routine in Molecular Biology

Paweł Kawalec
Published Online: 2018-10-30 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/opis-2018-0010


Of the three main areas of science studies that emerged after WWII (Kawalec, 2018), namely social studies of science, economics of knowledge and scientometrics, it was the latter that gained particular prominence in science policy around the 1990’s with the advent of New Public Management (Pollitt, Thiel, & Homburg, 2007). One of its focal areas has been identification of emerging topics in science. They are incessantly assumed to be an outcome of a simple cumulative progress of scientific knowledge (Price, 1976; Merton, 1988; Bird, 2007; Fochler, 2016). In my paper I challenge this assumption of simple cumulativity and argue that the emergence of breakthrough topics in science is preceded by a sequence of transformation phases. Using the example of “microRNA&cancer” as an emergent topic identified by a quantitative analysis of a large dataset of publications (Small et al. 2014) I demonstrate that the proposed analysis of transformation phases complements big data quantitative analyses with theoretical understanding of the dynamics mechanism and, in effect, leads to a more adequate characterization of the topic itself as well as a more precise identification of the source publications. While the proposed method uses a more complex (meso-level) unit of analysis (i.e. “research routines”) instead of citations and co-occurrence of single publications (micro-level), it integrates quantitative with qualitative analyses.

Keywords: emerging topics; research routine; mixed-methods research; microRNAs; progress in science and transition phases


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About the article

Received: 2018-01-10

Accepted: 2018-08-20

Published Online: 2018-10-30

Published in Print: 2018-10-01

Citation Information: Open Information Science, Volume 2, Issue 1, Pages 127–146, ISSN (Online) 2451-1781, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/opis-2018-0010.

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© by Paweł Kawalec, published by De Gruyter. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 License. BY-NC-ND 4.0

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