The Role of Datasets on Scientific Influence within Conflict Research

Journal Article

Abstract: We inductively tested if a coherent field of inquiry in human conflict research emerged in an analysis of published research involving “conflict” in the Web of Science (WoS) over a 66-year period (1945–2011). We created a citation network that linked the 62,504 WoS records and their cited literature. We performed a critical path analysis (CPA), a specialized social network analysis on this citation network (~1.5 million works), to highlight the main contributions in conflict research and to test if research on conflict has in fact evolved to represent a coherent field of inquiry. Out of this vast dataset, 49 academic works were highlighted by the CPA suggesting a coherent field of inquiry; which means that researchers in the field acknowledge seminal contributions and share a common knowledge base. Other conflict concepts that were also analyzed—such as interpersonal conflict or conflict among pharmaceuticals, for example, did not form their own CP. A single path formed, meaning that there was a cohesive set of ideas that built upon previous research. This is in contrast to a main path analysis of conflict from 1957–1971 where ideas didn’t persist in that multiple paths existed and died or emerged reflecting lack of scientific coherence (Carley, Hummon, and Harty, 1993). The critical path consisted of a number of key features: 1) Concepts that built throughout include the notion that resource availability drives conflict, which emerged in the 1960s-1990s and continued on until 2011. More recent intrastate studies that focused on inequalities emerged from interstate studies on the democracy of peace earlier on the path. 2) Recent research on the path focused on forecasting conflict, which depends on welldeveloped metrics and theories to model. 3) We used keyword analysis to independently show how the CP was topically linked (i.e., through democracy, modeling, resources, and geography). Publically available conflict datasets developed early on helped shape the operationalization of conflict. In fact, 94% of the works on the CP that analyzed data either relied on publically available datasets, or they generated a dataset and made it public. These datasets appear to be important in the development of conflict research, allowing for cross-case comparisons, and comparisons to previous works.

Citation: Van Holt, T., J.C. Johnson, S. Moates, K.M. Carley. 2016. The Role of Datasets on Scientific Influence within Conflict Research. PLoS ONE 11(4): e0154148. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0154148

Keywords: critical path analysis, conflict research,