11.3.2 Worked example: HIV in Science, Nature and Cell

Let us assume you are interested on how research on HIV has developed over the years. You focus your search on three core journals that are likely to publish on this topic: Science, Nature and Cell. You would then run the following query.

HIV query

The most highly cited results for this query are shown below. We can see that each of the three journals has published some highly cited articles in this field. We can also observe that most of the highly cited articles were published between 1995 and 1997.

HIV results

However, I am also interested in how the volume of research on HIV has developed over the years. In order to assess this I rerun the search for a single journal: Science. The reason for this is that if I include all journals only the highly cited 1000 results will be shown and this will naturally include fewer recent articles. Running the search for Science alone ensures I also include less-cited articles (there are 50 articles without citations). This reduces the risk of missing most of the more recently published articles.

When I sort the results by year, I first find four articles that were published between 1752 and 1873. These are clearly Google Scholar parsing errors, where Google for instance mistook the page numbers for the year indication. Beyond these four, articles on HIV started to be published in Science in 1986. However, after removing duplicates, I found only four articles published in that year. About a dozen articles were published in 1987, whilst nearly 50 articles were published in 1988. This turned about to be one of the most active publishing year for authors publishing about HIV as between 1989 an 1995 the number of articles had gone down to about 30-40. In 1996, the number of articles reached nearly 50 again, dropping to 30-40 again in 1997 and 1998. From 1999, the number of articles published in Science on HIV went down to about 20 a year, getting closer to a ten a year in recent years.

The name HIV was introduced in May 1986 by the International Committee on the Taxonomy of Viruses. The current treatment for HIV was introduced in 1996, resulting in a declining number of deaths from HIV/AIDS. Studying the scientific interest in HIV (or any illness) thus allows one to understand the development of interest in the disease over time.