How we think about, analyze, measure, and evaluate research has significantly evolved over the last few years. For decades, we relied on publications and citations data alone, and although incredibly useful, we know now they aren’t enough. Whilst output volume and impact data are important, putting context around research helps us better relate to society and understand global challenges through data-driven stories and evidence-based narratives.

The importance of this becomes clear when we look at global research challenges. Many of the most pressing problems we face in our societies and the planet are global challenges where research, science, and innovation play a crucial role. 

This case study explores a global research challenge and demonstrates how Dimensions can help you build context around a critical research topic. To view the full webinar including a demo of the Dimensions platform: Webinar: A joined-up perspective on research with Dimensions and Altmetric: A case study of biochar 

Understanding a global problem

Soil degradation is a global problem. When there is a significant change in the soil’s health, the ecosystem is destroyed, and the knock-on effect is devastation. According to Scientific American, there are only 60 years of farming harvests left if we do not solve the soil degradation crisis. 

Negative emissions technologies collectively identify new techniques and technologies that permanently remove greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from the earth’s atmosphere. They intervene in the earth’s carbon cycle, directly addressing the root cause of climate change.

Biochar is one of these technologies. Given the global concern that we will not meet our international 2050 carbon reduction targets alone without the help of one or more of these negative emissions technologies, there is understandably intense research, funding, and interest in Biochar. 

Giving context with Dimensions

Dimensions is an interlinked database pulling together many large and previously disparate data sources into one single platform. Those sources of information include publications, grants, datasets, patents, clinical trials, and policy documents. Users can explore the data in Dimensions to find links and connections to identify and analyze the broad impact of research; from the initial funding all the way through to potential citations in other publications, or even usage patterns from clinical trials and policy documents, as well as different types of metrics including Altmetrics. Dimensions provides a simple way to interact with the data and perform complex analyses using visualizations, delivering the added-value context that extends our understanding beyond publications and citations alone. 

Publications growth and other trends

Let’s start by looking at the growth trajectory of Biochar research and putting it into more context. We know research activity overall is growing every year, so where does Biochar sit relative to overall growth within the field? Figure 1 uses the Analytical Views tab in Dimensions to show the global publication output, comparing this with engineering and soil sciences publications. We can already see that soil sciences publication growth is outpacing global output trends. At a glance, we can surmise that this is a topic of recently increasing interest. 

Figure 1: All publication global output vs. Engineering and Soil Sciences global output 2010-YTD

In figure 2, we drill down further to look at which specific research trends in Biochar we can identify. Interest in Biochar and the subsequent number of publications has exponentially grown in the last 5 years. Biochar is clearly a topic that researchers are increasingly turning their attention to.

Figure 2: Biochar research publications in comparison to soil sciences publications.

We can add additional context to this story by adding funding sources in the Analytical Views tab in Dimensions. In figure 3, we zoom in further to understand the funding trends in the field. Funding in Biochar research significantly increased between 2016-2018. As a result, we see similar patterns in the resulting patents registered in Biochar research (figure 4).

Figure 3: Funding trends in the field, including specifically Biochar

Figure 4: Patent trends in the field, including specifically Biochar

This information tells us a lot about what is happening in the field. Users can add even more context than ever before to answer questions like:

  • Which institutions are publishing the most Biochar research?
  • Which authors are publishing the highest quality of Biochar research?
  • How much Biochar research is Open Access?
  • Which areas in the world publish Biochar research and in what quantity?
  • Who has active Biochar grants and will publish research or register patents in the future?

Discussions around biochar research

Dimensions also includes Altmetric information. Dimensions users can track real-time Altmetric attention data, quickly understanding the attention and discussion surrounding research areas like Biochar, and informing communication planning. 

For example, this contextual information allows users to understand:

  • Mentions of Biochar research in the news
  • Mentions of Biochar research in policy
  • Mentions of Biochar research in patents
  • Biochar research with the most ‘noise’ (media mentions, Tweets, Blogs, Social Media, cites, bookmarks, and more)
  • Most active Tweeters (or influencers) in Biochar research 

Sustainable development goals: How aligned are we?

As we have seen, Dimensions’ ability to contextualise information supports broader investigation into a topic than publications alone. Dimensions also allows users to analyze publications, grants and policy documents that are aligned with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) framework. For example, by using the SDG filter in Dimensions we see in figure 5 that around 14.5% of global grants are SDG-aligned but in Soil Sciences, SDG-aligned grant funding shoots up to almost 43%.

Figure 5: SDG-aligned 2020 grant funding

This important information is contained within the Dimensions platform and means we can understand who the top 10 SDG-aligned Biochar researchers are, or which Biochar related research is having the most impact for example.

It’s only when we link all these important data points together that we can build a truly reflective understanding around a topic or question. Unlike other databases, Dimensions pulls millions of records, data points and contextual documents together. The Analytical Views tab builds graphs and tables that quickly inform the user and put the information into context

If you are interested in learning how Dimensions can benefit your organization, institution or company, please contact us, and we’ll be in touch soon.