, Volume 117, Issue 2, pp 1265–1283 | Cite as

General properties of the evolution of research fields: a scientometric study of human microbiome, evolutionary robotics and astrobiology

  • Mario Coccia


How do research fields evolve? This study confronts this question here by developing an inductive analysis based on emerging research fields of human microbiome, evolutionary robotics and astrobiology (also called exobiology). Data analysis considers papers associated with subject areas of authors from starting years to 2017 per each research field under study. Findings suggest some empirical properties of the evolution of research fields: the first property states that the evolution of a research field is driven by few disciplines (3–5) that generate more than 80% of documents (concentration of scientific production); the second property states that the evolution of research fields is path-dependent of critical disciplines: they can be parent disciplines that have originated the research field or new disciplines emerged during the evolution of science; the third property states that the evolution of research fields can be also due to a new discipline originated from a process of specialization within applied or basic sciences and/or convergence between disciplines. Finally, the fourth property states that the evolution of specific research fields can be due to both applied and basic sciences. These results here can explain and generalize some characteristics of the evolution of scientific fields in the dynamics of science. Overall, then, this study begins the process of clarifying and generalizing, as far as possible, the general properties of the evolution of research fields to lay a foundation for the development of sophisticated theories of the evolution of science.


Research fields Evolution of science Dynamics of science Convergence in science Applied sciences Basic sciences Human microbiome Evolutionary robotics Astrobiology Exobiology 

JEL Classification

A19 C00 I23 L30 



The research in this paper was conducted while the author was a visiting scholar of the Center for Social Dynamics and Complexity at the Arizona State University funded by CNR - National Research Council of Italy and The National Endowment for the Humanities (Research Grant No. 0003005-2016). I thank the fruitful suggestions and comments by Ken Aiello, Sara I. Walker and seminar participants at the Beyond-Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science (Arizona State University in Tempe, USA). Older versions of this paper circulated as working papers. The author declares that he has no relevant or material financial interests that relate to the research discussed in this paper. Usual disclaimer applies.


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Copyright information

© Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, Hungary 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CNR – National Research Council of Italy & Arizona State University, IRCRES-CNR, Collegio Carlo AlbertoMoncalieri, TorinoItaly

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