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Topic Evolution, Disruption and Resilience in Early COVID-19 Research

Journal Title Scientometrics
Published Date March 20, 2021
Research Type


The COVID-19 pandemic presented a challenge to the global research community as scientists rushed to find solutions to the devastating crisis. Drawing expectations from resilience theory, this paper explores how the trajectory of and research community around the coronavirus research was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Characterizing epistemic clusters and pathways of knowledge through extracting terms featured in articles in early COVID-19 research, combined with evolutionary pathways and statistical analysis, the results reveal that the pandemic disrupted existing lines of coronavirus research to a large degree. While some communities of coronavirus research are similar pre- and during COVID-19, topics themselves change significantly and there is less cohesion amongst early COVID-19 research compared to that before the pandemic. We find that some lines of research revert to basic research pursued almost a decade earlier, whilst others pursue brand new trajectories. The epidemiology topic is the most resilient among the many subjects related to COVID-19 research. Chinese researchers in particular appear to be driving more novel research approaches in the early months of the pandemic. The findings raise questions about whether shifts are advantageous for global scientific progress, and whether the research community will return to the original equilibrium or reorganize into a different knowledge configuration.