Software Carpentry

Helping scientists make better software since 1997

What Sciences Are There?

Over 1900 people have already responded to our survey of how scientists use computers, and it still has two weeks left to run. Our next task will be to analyze the data we’ve collected, which (among other things) means coding people’s free-form descriptions of their specialties so that we can talk about physicists and chemists as opposed to “this one person who’s doing N-brane quantum foam approximations to multiversal steady-state thingummies”.

Except: are “physics” and “chemistry” too broad?  At that level, there are only a handful of sciences: astronomy, geology, biology, mathematics, psychology, um, computing, er, Curly, Larry, and Moe.  Or maybe you’d distinguish “ecology” from “biology”.  Or “oceanography” from something else, or — you see the problem.  Rather than making up our own classification scheme, I’d like to adopt one that’s widely used and generally intelligible, but I’m having trouble finding one.  Yahoo!, Wikipedia, and other web sites have incompatible (and idiosyncratic) divisions; the Dewey Decimal System and other library schemes have a very 19th Century view of science, and the ACM/IEEE publication codes are domain-specific.

If anyone can point me at something else (ideally, something with about two dozen categories — that feels like it ought to be about right, just from eyeballing the data we have so far), I’d be grateful.

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Written by Greg Wilson

2008/11/16 at 21:34

Posted in Community, Research

5 Responses

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  1. What you need is hierarchical clustering. 🙂

    Gael Varoquaux

    2008/11/17 at 01:47

  2. “Physics” is *way* toot broad for expecting a general trend in usage of computers. Typically, you want to use the same classification as the editors of the Physical Review. Look at whether your physicists usually publish in Physical Review A (particle physics), Physical Review B (condensed matter), etc. Also, don’t forget to make a distinction between 3 classes of physicists: theoriticians, numericians and experimentalists.

    Baptiste

    2008/11/17 at 11:46

  3. @Baptiste: Yes, but then what do I do about geologists? Biologists? Astronomers? I’d like to find one scheme of about two dozen categories encompassing all sciences from psychology and economics at one end to cosmology at the other, and PhysRev would only give me one slice. If you know of a broader scheme, I’d be grateful for pointers.

    Greg Wilson

    2008/11/17 at 12:05

  4. […] (or invent) a coding scheme for scientific disciplines for the survey we’re […]

  5. Two responses:

    – Brian Hayes sent me a page from Diderot and d’Alembert’s “Encyclopedie” that classifies pretty much everything as a branch of physics. I know people who still believe that… 🙂

    – David Schoonmaker sent me http://www.americanscientist.org/issues/issue_byTopic.aspx, which is the classification scheme “American Scientist” uses for topics — unless something better comes along, we’ll go with it.

    Greg Wilson

    2008/11/18 at 11:24


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