Date Published: June 18, 2019
Publisher: Public Library of Science
Author(s): Daniel J. Hicks, David A. Coil, Carl G. Stahmer, Jonathan A. Eisen, Wolfgang Glanzel.
In 2004, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation launched a new program focused on incubating a new field, “Microbiology of the Built Environment” (MoBE). By the end of 2017, the program had supported the publication of hundreds of scholarly works, but it was unclear to what extent it had stimulated the development of a new research community. We identified 307 works funded by the MoBE program, as well as a comparison set of 698 authors who published in the same journals during the same period of time but were not part of the Sloan Foundation-funded collaboration. Our analysis of collaboration networks for both groups of authors suggests that the Sloan Foundation’s program resulted in a more consolidated community of researchers, specifically in terms of number of components, diameter, density, and transitivity of the coauthor networks. In addition to highlighting the success of this particular program, our method could be applied to other fields to examine the impact of funding programs and other large-scale initiatives on the formation of research communities.
In 2004, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation launched a program focusing on the “Microbiology of the Built Environment”, sometimes known as “MoBE”. The aims of this program were to catalyze research on microbes and microbial communities in human built environments, such as homes, vehicles, and water systems; and to develop the topic into a whole field of inquiry. Prior to 2004, many new developments (e.g., major advances in DNA sequencing technology) had catalyzed innovation in studies of microbes found in other environments (e.g., those living in and on humans and other animals, those found in the soil, those found in the oceans), but these innovations had not spread rapidly enough to studies of the microbes in the built environment. Similarly, many developments had occurred in studies of the built environment (e.g., the spread of low cost sensor systems), but focus had not yet been placed on the living, microbial components of built environments. This is not to say there had been no studies on the MoBE topic prior to 2004, but rather that the pace of advances in the area were modest at best compared to advances in other areas of microbiology and built environment studies. The MoBE area was founded on the belief that institutionally supported, integrated, trans-disciplanary scientific inquiry could address these shortfalls and lead to major benefits in areas such as indoor health, disease transmission, biodefense, forensics, and energy efficiency.
Overall, we believe our results support the hypothesis that the Sloan Foundation-funded researchers consolidated as a community over the course of the program during 2008-2010. Whereas at the start of the program there were relatively few connections between researchers, especially across domains, by the end of our study period the network was dense and highly interconnected. In particular, while the Sloan Foundation-funded community was initially less connected than the control community it reached a similar level of consolidation by the end of the study period. This suggests to us that the program was successful in the stated goal of increasing collaboration between researchers.