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Informatics Technology Mimics Ecology: Dense, Mutualistic Collaboration Networks Are Associated with Higher Publication Rates
Published: Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Author: Marco D. Sorani

by Marco D. Sorani

Information technology (IT) adoption enables biomedical research. Publications are an accepted measure of research output, and network models can describe the collaborative nature of publication. In particular, ecological networks can serve as analogies for publication and technology adoption. We constructed network models of adoption of bioinformatics programming languages and health IT (HIT) from the literature. We selected seven programming languages and four types of HIT. We performed PubMed searches to identify publications since 2001. We calculated summary statistics and analyzed spatiotemporal relationships. Then, we assessed ecological models of specialization, cooperativity, competition, evolution, biodiversity, and stability associated with publications. Adoption of HIT has been variable, while scripting languages have experienced rapid adoption. Hospital systems had the largest HIT research corpus, while Perl had the largest language corpus. Scripting languages represented the largest connected network components. The relationship between edges and nodes was linear, though Bioconductor had more edges than expected and Perl had fewer. Spatiotemporal relationships were weak. Most languages shared a bioinformatics specialization and appeared mutualistic or competitive. HIT specializations varied. Specialization was highest for Bioconductor and radiology systems. Specialization and cooperativity were positively correlated among languages but negatively correlated among HIT. Rates of language evolution were similar. Biodiversity among languages grew in the first half of the decade and stabilized, while diversity among HIT was variable but flat. Compared with publications in 2001, correlation with publications one year later was positive while correlation after ten years was weak and negative. Adoption of new technologies can be unpredictable. Spatiotemporal relationships facilitate adoption but are not sufficient. As with ecosystems, dense, mutualistic, specialized co-habitation is associated with faster growth. There are rapidly changing trends in external technological and macroeconomic influences. We propose that a better understanding of how technologies are adopted can facilitate their development.
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