Using social network analysis and examining all 12,170 articles published by an affiliated Alzheimer’s Disease Center between 1985-2012, corresponding author, Michael E. Hughes, PhD, and his colleagues* were able to verify the extraordinary impact and success of the ADC program over the past 25 years.
“Oddly enough, our efforts in this field of research started from an interest in baseball,” explains Dr. Hughes. “I’ve been a baseball fan my entire life, and I’ve followed Bill James’ work on sabermetrics for some time. When I was a postdoc in John Hogenesch’s lab at Penn, we both read Michael Lewis’ “Moneyball” at around the same time… My mentor, John Hogenesch, was struck with the idea that market inefficiencies could be exploited through better and more quantitative evaluation methods, and over beer on Friday afternoon, he suggested we apply a Moneyball approach to the study of scientific productivity.”
Once Dr. Hughes and Dr. Hogenesch had published their first paper on this subject, the ADC study fell next in line. “We were approached by John Trojanowski, who suggested we apply the same computational tools to study the growth and productivity of Alzheimer’s Disease Centers (ADCs),” Dr. Hughes continued. As it turns out, Dr. Trojanowski’s instincts were right on target. As Dr. Hughes explained, “the scope, ambitions, and duration of the ADC project makes it ideal for doing these sorts of longitudinal, social networking studies.”
With the help of Dr. Trojanowski, Dr. Hughes and Dr. Hogenesch were able to reach a number of connections within the ADCs and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for the support that they needed to move forward with their research.
While Dr. Hughes expected to see a fair level of inter-institutional collaborative projects, seeing that this is “exactly what the ADC program set out to do”, the rate of growth was much higher than his expectations. According to the findings, there continues to be a steady increase in the frequency of these collaborative studies and/or articles between the ADCs. Moreover, Dr. Hughes revealed that in addition to ADC papers tending to have a higher level of impact than average Alzheimer’s disease publications to begin with, “the publications emerging from inter-ADC collaborations tend to be even more influential than that.” This is great news for Alzheimer’s Disease Centers and their supporters.
The access to such an effective means of measuring success becomes increasingly important when considering the weight of its results. “The funding climate is extremely tight, and Alzheimer’s Disease and other neurodegenerative diseases are projected to become nothing short of catastrophic in our lifetime. Given finite resources and an approaching public health crisis, it makes perfect sense to pay close attention to how to best spend every public dollar,” explains Dr. Hughes, but “the broadest interpretation of these results suggests that shared resources, shared tools, and open exchange of data and ideas makes everyone’s science better.”
While this is the first study of its kind to measure the productivity of Alzheimer’s Disease Centers, Dr. Hughes both suspects and encourages the continued use of social network analysis for future ADC research and in other scientific fields as well.
To read Hughes’ full investigation, visit: The Growth and Impact of Alzheimer Disease Centers as Measured by Social Network Analysis
* Affiliated authors: John Peeler, BA; John B. Hogenesch, PhD; John Q. Trojanowski, MD, PhD