There's an interesting article in Slate about the possible differences in outcome of scientific research based on the mode of funding: longer-term, more flexible grants vs. shorter-term, project-based grants. The article describes the results of a study that compared Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) funded investigators with NIH funded investigators who could be considered peers based on publication records and receipt of prestigious awards.
According to the study, the HHMI-funded researchers generated more highly cited work, as well as a lot of publications that had never been cited, highlighting the fact that even overall successful research results in some (many) dead ends. A possible explanation for the success of the HHMI researchers is that they had more freedom to "innovate" (the topic that is the main focus of the article).
That's interesting, but I was particularly intrigued by one of the measures used to evaluate innovation: the use of keywords in a publication:
They [HHMI researchers] are .. more likely to produce research that introduces new words and phrases into their fields of research, as measured by the list of "keywords" they attach to their studies to describe their work.
There's also some tentative evidence that HHMI scholars experiment more than their NIH-funded counterparts: ... their keywords change more often across studies, ... suggesting broader experimentation.
I can see that the variety of keywords for an individual researcher might indicate breadth or interdisciplinarity, but are keywords a good measure of innovation?
I am sure that innovation is difficult to quantify. Even citation indices are not necessarily a good measure. Some very highly cited publications are not innovative but represent a necessary technical advance upon which more innovative research can be based. And there are likely many examples of very innovative work that is not necessarily highly cited (especially if it becomes "conventional wisdom" rather quickly).
If keywords measure something important about a publication, however, perhaps I need to pay more attention to my keyword selection, possibly even making up a few new words now and then. When choosing keywords for my papers, I typically pick a few descriptive terms, but I don't give them a lot of thought. For me, keywords are an afterthought, selected quickly so I can continue with the manuscript submission process. Most of the important words are likely to be in the title and abstract anyway. Clearly I have not been thinking out of the box re. keyword selection.
I suppose if you invent something (even if it's just a new term, like thermofelinics) and it turns out to be important, you might want your paper to appear in searches as the earliest one on record that describes this new thing/process/idea. And for that to happen, perhaps you need to choose the right keywords. Perhaps you need to choose a combination of prosaic keywords and hot new keywords; let's call them: lowkeywords and keykeywords (K2W?), respectively.
So: Do keywords indicate something fundamental about us as researchers? And if so, should I take more interest in keywords and their careful selection?
Keywords: keywords, lokeywords, keykeywords, thermofelinics
6 years ago