Table of Contents
The challenge that faced the Science Foresight Project was to design and assess a simple, objective and cost-effective technique to gather information about emerging short and long-term research developments, primarily in the physical and engineering sciences. International experts were objectively chosen using co-citation patterns to the scientific and technical literature, and were invited to submit their predictions about emerging developments in their research fields. Also, they were asked questions about how various factors and driving forces might affect their predictions. The cost and time required to administer the questionnaire and collect the responses was minimised through the use of Internet and Web based technologies. A concerted effort was made to accurately report the experts' predictions without judging or criticising them. The significance and value of the predictions are left to the reader and the passage of time.
Using ISI'sŪ 1999 Research Fronts database, 481 highly co-cited papers in unique ISIŪ research fronts were objectively selected using co-citation analysis. One author from each paper was contacted and invited to participate in the Science Foresight Project. In addition, he/she was asked to help us contact co-authors of the paper so they could be invited to participate in the project too. An Internet and web-based questionnaire, that took less than one-person year to develop and administer, was used to collect the predictions. A simple process was used to report the predictions. Short excerpts from each prediction were used as the summary, and each prediction was classified into one of ten emerging development categories: Atomic & Stellar Matter; Biology & Biosphere; Biomedical & Clinical; Chemical & Materials; Computers & Robotics; Genomics & Proteomics; Mathematical & Computational; Molecular Matter; Nano Science & Technology; and Optical & Quantum.
Authors from 114 papers (23.7%) responded, providing a total of 190 short-term and 111 long-term predicted emerging developments. Expert responses were received from an international group of senior researchers between the ages of 36 and 55, mostly engaged in basic research in academic institutions. Some experts described specific emerging developments, some discussed broad emerging trends in their field and others described both. Emerging development categories such as Atomic & Stellar Matter, Biology & Biosphere, Biomedical & Clinical, Computers & Robotics and Genomics & Proteomics were closely aligned with conventional science areas while other categories such as Mathematical & Computational and Nano Science & Technology contained predictions from almost every area of science.
When questioned about factors and driving forces that might affect their predictions the experts were optimistic that funding and all types of collaboration would likely increase in their areas of research over the next five years. However, they were less optimistic that the number of graduate students would increase. Most importantly, they believed that access to postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, improved instrumentation and computer algorithms and hardware are important driving forces in achieving their predictions.
While no attempt was made to create a general overview of the emerging developments, some common overarching patterns seemed to be evolving. For example, emerging developments in Mathematical and Computational methods seem to underline progress in many research areas. At the same time, emerging developments in the Nano Science & Technology and Optical & Quantum categories hold promise for novel advances in computing devices and systems that in turn could profoundly impact mathematical and computational methods. Among other things these developments could satisfy an increasing demand in all areas of sciences to simulate phenomena from first principles and explore the intricate characteristics of dynamic non-linear systems, self-assembly processes and complex mesoscale organisation.
In summary, an objective method for selecting research experts from the international research community was designed and tested. The Science Foresight Project produced a low cost, time efficient foresight method that can be used in an on-going manner to collect and report, in an unbiased fashion, potential emerging research developments. Also, the technique appears to hold promise to efficiently survey the international research community to gain insights into common patterns that evolve from their collective research activities. Dynamically monitoring emerging research developments on a continuous basis could provide valuable information to policy makers, planners and researchers.
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