## Abstract

To reconstruct topics in bibliometric networks, one must use algorithms. Specifically, researchers often apply algorithms from the class of network community detection algorithms (such as the Louvain algorithm) that are general-purpose algorithms not intentionally programmed for a bibliometric task. Each algorithm has specific properties “inscribed,” which distinguish it from the others. It can thus be assumed that different algorithms are more or less suitable for a given bibliometric task. However, the suitability of a specific algorithm when it is applied for topic reconstruction is rarely reflected upon. Why choose this algorithm and not another? In this study, I assess the suitability of four community detection algorithms for topic reconstruction, by first deriving the properties of the phenomenon to be reconstructed—topics—and comparing if these match with the properties of the algorithms. The results suggest that the previous use of these algorithms for bibliometric purposes cannot be justified by their specific suitability for this task.

## PEER REVIEW

## 1. INTRODUCTION

Ever since the advent of larger and larger networks that can be created from bibliometric data, researchers have been confronted with different tasks to find structures in these data. These tasks include the reconstruction of entities on a higher aggregation level, such as scientific specialties (Small & Griffith, 1974) or fields (Klavans & Boyack, 2011); or, at a lower aggregation level, research fronts (Boyack & Klavans, 2010) and topics (Sjögårde & Ahlgren, 2018). Over the last 50 years, the methods for these reconstruction tasks have changed, yet the basic principle for finding thematic structures in the researchers’ artifacts, the publications, has remained the same: “A set of publications is delineated and its intellectual structure analyzed with algorithms that utilize properties of these publications” (Gläser, Glänzel, & Scharnhorst, 2017, p. 984). Algorithms are necessary to analyze these large amounts of data, and the results obtained are meant to represent certain intellectual structures.

For the algorithmically detected structures to be useful for science studies and other practical applications, however, one needs to be able to relate them to a conceptualization of the structure/phenomenon in question. To engender the relation between algorithmic structures and concepts, a theoretical definition of the concept is needed, from which certain properties (in my case: properties of topics) can then be derived. Only by having these properties of the concept is it possible to assess the algorithms according to the degree to which the algorithms’ properties are suitable for the task.

The community detection algorithms used for the bibliometric task of science mapping have not been developed to perform this specific task, and each one has specific (algorithmic) properties “inscribed.” Thus, it can be assumed that different algorithms are more or less suitable for a given bibliometric task. This suitability, then, can and must be evaluated.

In many bibliometric studies, however, the algorithms chosen are usually not subject to discussion. The data model and the algorithm are usually considered together, where their performance is assessed by comparing their outcomes to an external standard. Studies provide arguments concerning data models (Boyack & Klavans, 2010), but in the scientometric literature I have not found work performing a separate analysis of reasons why algorithms may be more or less suitable. There is only the study by Šubelj, van Eck, and Waltman (2016) who do systematically compare a large set of commonly used algorithms and apply them to bibliometric networks, but we do not learn why the results differ and why a certain algorithm would be suitable for a particular bibliometric application. Hence, certain algorithms are applied, and no argument is provided that links their choice to the purpose of the analysis (only arguments related to efficiency or performance). Thus, it is of utmost importance to learn more about the tools that we as bibliometricians are using.

With the research in this paper, I suggest an approach to the assessment of the suitability of community detection algorithms for the task of topic reconstruction. The four algorithms analyzed here have all been “successfully” applied to find thematic structures, including studies applying the Louvain algorithm (Glänzel & Thijs, 2017), the Leiden algorithm (Colavizza, Costas et al., 2021), Infomap (Velden, Yan, & Lagoze, 2017) and OSLOM (Šubelj et al., 2016). My results suggest that the previous use of these algorithms for bibliometric purposes cannot be justified by their specific suitability for this task.

The next section will introduce my approach, followed by the derivation of topic properties from the definition, together with the criteria to analyze the algorithms which I consider relevant for the topic reconstruction task. Finally, the results of the analysis of each algorithm are provided and some implications are discussed.

## 2. APPROACH

The approach used here to assess different algorithms for their suitability for topic reconstruction can be described as follows. At first, I need to make clear what exactly I intend to achieve with the help of algorithms applied to bibliometric networks. In my case, I want to reconstruct topics. This goal requires a match between what I consider a topic to be (Figure 1, left side) and what the algorithm constructs (Figure 1, lower right side). In other words, I need to operationalize my concept of “topic” and compare the result of this operationalization to the outcomes of algorithms. It is possible to define the concept “topic” in different ways, and different operationalizations of each concept are possible. Drawing on knowledge from the sociology of science, I first provide a definition for topics, and from this definition, I derive properties that topics have to have (steps 1 and 2; see Section 3). Then, algorithms with their properties (step 3) have to be confronted with these properties if we want to use them for measurement. The properties that characterize each algorithm and their outputs are assessed if they correspond with the properties of topics (step 4, “correspondence”).

## 3. DEFINITION OF TOPICS AND DERIVED PROPERTIES

### 3.1. Definitions of Topics in Bibliometrics

Studies attempting to reconstruct topics in scientific papers have approached the problem from various angles, using different approaches. Despite the variety of directions from which researchers have come, all these attempts to reconstruct topics share that some kind of definition of topic is involved, be it implicit or explicit.

Most approaches work with implicit definitions—usually with an everyday understanding of the topic and/or simply equating topics with the outcome of the chosen algorithmic approach—such as sets of publications at the lowest level of aggregation of a (hierarchical) mapping exercise (van den Besselaar & Heimeriks, 2006). Other approaches either equate a topic with the occurrence of one specific term (Kiss, Broom et al., 2010) or, in the case of topic modeling, define a topic using the probability distribution of several words across publications, where specific words in these publications do represent the topic (Griffiths & Steyvers, 2004; Yau, Porter et al., 2014). Sometimes a patchwork of implicit and explicit definitions with not much regard to theory is provided, and the actual operationalization is at odds with (at least parts of) this definition (as in Sjögårde and Ahlgren (2018), for example, who recognize topics to overlap, but reconstruct disjunct clusters)—a phenomenon already well observed in scientometrics when concepts (e.g., “discipline”) are to be measured (Sugimoto & Weingart, 2015, p. 785). This neglect of basing the analysis on theoretical knowledge precludes the findings from being linked to theory.

Thus, topics have either been implicitly defined while performing the reconstruction attempts, or explicit definitions have been given that are not based on theory, either. To be able to make clear what the algorithms used for topic reconstruction are to operationalize and to be able to assess their suitability for the reconstruction task, I provide below one explicit definition of topics which is based on knowledge from the sociology of science, which, in turn, allows me to derive the properties of topics.

### 3.2. Understanding of Topics in the Sociology of Science

The sociology of science has a long tradition of discussing conceptual units that allow us to best understand the development of science. Cozzens (1985, p. 440) highlights the enduring desirability to find a “diagnostic tool to describe and compare differences among the sciences in their process of knowledge growth.” Over the course of time, several different “diagnostic tools” have been in focus.

Much research done since the 1960s and 1970s has built on Kuhn’s important idea of the interplay of researchers organizing knowledge, and knowledge that organizes the researchers (Kuhn, 2012/1962). This interplay leads to the formation of scientific communities, where researchers collectively orient themselves to a knowledge base and contribute to it, which is characterized by increased communication among themselves (Kuhn, 2012/1962, p. 176).

In the quest to empirically demonstrate Kuhn’s idea of an interplay, Whitley (1974) developed this idea further and ended up with hierarchical relationships between scientific units. He contrasted different levels of aggregation of specific sociocognitive units, namely specialties and research areas. According to Whitley (1974, pp. 77–78), a research area can emerge “around” a phenomenon, a material, or a new instrument, for example. “‘Research areas,’” he states, “are collectivities based on some degree of commitment to a set of research practices and techniques” (Whitley, 1976, p. 472). For example, after the introduction of the electron microscope, a research area may form when researchers collectively intend to accumulate knowledge on how to analyze biological tissue with this electron microscope, and, later, when practice with this instrument has become commonplace, new research areas based on specific phenomena or materials to be investigated could emerge. Specialties, on the other hand, he considers partly different in scope and partly different in kind. They are “more general in scope than research areas” (Whitley, 1974, p. 79) and are built around a set of cognitive structures (“models”) that order and interpret a particular, restricted aspect of reality (Whitley, 1974). Since Whitley set out to spot the relevant social units in which science is taking place, the task has continued to be pursued and is still under way today.

Building on the idea of Kuhn, in the subsequent literature we find indications that different structures exist in science. Zuckerman and Merton (1973, p. 507) highlight differences in the organization of “different sciences and specialties” and introduce the *degree of codification of knowledge*. How I could actually measure codification, however, remains unclear. Regarding more codified “fields,” for example, they only state that the “comprehensive and more precise theoretical [knowledge] structures […] not only allow empirical particulars to be derived from them but also provide more clearly defined criteria for assessing the importance of new problems, new data, and newly proposed solutions” (Zuckerman & Merton, 1973). Contributions in this direction are also provided by Chubin’s (1976, p. 449) review on specialties, who recognizes that “intellectual, cognitive, or problem content can generate different kinds of structure.” And further by the hypothesis of a “hierarchy of the sciences” (Cole, 1983), distinguishing different “sciences” according to their ability to achieve consensus and accumulate knowledge (Fanelli & Glänzel, 2013), or the urban or rural organization of science (Colavizza, Franssen et al., 2019).

Edge and Mulkay (1976, p. 374) contributed to what is known about shared commitments to knowledge by tracing the entanglement of “scientific and technical development” with the “evolution of social relationships” in their analysis of researchers forming and changing their collective orientation during the emergence and development of the specialty of radio astronomy (their study also analyzes several other specialties). Here, and elsewhere, one of the researchers’ overarching topics for some time might have been the phenomenon of emissions of radio wavelengths from sources in space (e.g., Edge & Mulkay, 1976, pp. 374–376), and several groups from different established specialties interpreted this with their own theoretical and methodological background, creating different topics depending on their collective interpretation.

It can be concluded that, even though the literature offers no precise method to measure relevant units of science, the idea of knowledge with the corresponding social structures has been established and relevant since then. Furthermore, evidence can be found of researchers having a shared commitment to a body of knowledge that orients their work, and that structural differences among scientific units can be expected.

The exact conceptualization of “topic” used in this paper stands in the tradition sketched above, building on the idea of shared commitments to knowledge, indicating that scientific communities form along with topics. This concept of topic is similar to Whitley’s concept of a research area but abandons the idea of a hierarchy of research areas and specialties. In contrast, I consider research areas and specialties as not qualitatively different but only different in size. Topics, then, can be part of specialties, and also span several specialties, rendering them a relevant unit in science. Furthermore, I consider topics *not* just to represent (fixed) bodies of knowledge that are unambiguously structured—an idea that is more related to information retrieval—but to represent *collective interpretations of knowledge* that have a scope that can be situated somewhere between the very elementary level of individual knowledge claims and the much broader level of a scientific field or specialty.

In contrast to the abovementioned definitions of topic in bibliometrics, where they are considered to be somehow fixed in publications and/or equivalent to specific sets of terms therein, I regard topics as things that are actively constructed by researchers, which can eventually leave traces in the resulting publications (which could, among other traces, be terms or citations).

Specifically, I consider topics to emerge from coinciding *interpretations* and *uses* of some scientific knowledge by researchers, using the definition of topics provided by Havemann, Gläser, and Heinz (2017, p. 1091):

a focus on theoretical, methodological or empirical knowledge that is shared by a number of researchers and thereby provides these researchers with a joint frame of reference for the formulation of problems, the selection of methods or objects, the organisation of empirical data, or the interpretation of data

^{1}.

^{2}.

Using an explicit sociological definition of topics makes it possible to establish a link between the rich accumulated knowledge of the sociology of science, with bibliometrics. The procedure of a precise definition and operationalization for measurement represents a standard procedure in science. Without such a definition and a coherent operationalization, bibliometrics decouples itself completely from science studies, precluding the results of bibliometric studies from being interpreted using the knowledge existing in science studies, or from accumulating knowledge in science studies with the use of bibliometrics (see also Held, Laudel, & Gläser, 2021: 4513–4515). Furthermore, the definition and its derived properties (Section 4) enable me then to compare the algorithms based on their suitability for this particular application.

For whatever purpose the concept of “topic” is used (whatever the specific application in question might be, be it science policy or science studies), the algorithms’ inner workings and their properties must correspond to the purpose of the topic reconstruction exercise. Otherwise, their outcomes are of no use.

The abovementioned definition, however, cannot overcome the inherent vagueness of the phenomenon in question (i.e., topics being based on researchers’ perceptions of knowledge). Even if a precise definition is given, and it has been plausibly operationalized as dense communication or thematic similarity, these phenomena remain empirically difficult to identify. Nevertheless, clearly defined and operationalizable *properties* of topics can be derived, and, with my analysis, I ask whether the algorithms can reconstruct these properties.

### 3.3. Properties of Topics

To operationalize this definition of topics, I derive several properties from the definition, which in turn shape the demands placed on algorithms aiming to reconstruct topics. Even though I am confronted with the difficulty of transforming the topic definition into instructions for how to bibliometrically measure it, the derived properties themselves are precise, and it is each property’s specific expression of the various topics “out there” that varies greatly^{3}.

Topics are local because they are being defined as products of the participating researchers. Outsiders perceive the topic but do not construct it (Havemann et al., 2017, p. 1091).

Topics can differ in their size, from a few researchers working on them up to many, many more. Because the degree of engagement will vary, the size of a topic will always be difficult to measure.

A researcher can contribute to several topics simultaneously. Publications may address several topics (Sullivan, White, & Barboni, 1977, p. 235; Amsterdamska & Leydesdorff, 1989, p. 461). Topics are overlapping, which I define as the phenomenon that one and the same bibliometric entity (author or publication) can contribute to several topics.

Topics as shared frames of reference with intensified communication between researchers are cohesive, defined as dense communication between researchers or thematic similarity between publications. Separation from other topics is only a by-product of cohesiveness (Havemann et al. (2017, p. 1091).

Because topics can connect knowledge in many different ways (Section 3.2), it follows also that topics can have various communication or thematic structures. Thus, topics are defined as structurally variable, which makes it likely that they are represented by various structural forms in bibliometric networks.

The organizational unit of a specialty I consider to be similar to a topic in that it also represents a shared knowledge base of researchers that orients their research actions and towards which they contribute. Fundamentally, delineating topics and delineating specialties constitute the same task: finding thematic structures in sets of publications. Thus, most considerations made in this paper about topics should also hold for specialties.

## 4. PROPERTIES OF ALGORITHMS

One frequently applied set of approaches in scientometrics to find thematic structures consists of using optimization algorithms, specifically algorithms that intend to find “communities”^{4} in bibliometric networks, where the found communities are often directly interpreted as topics (Sjögårde & Ahlgren, 2018; Šubelj et al., 2016). These algorithmically delineated communities are structures with dense links in the network and, depending on the bibliometric network used, can correspond to two aspects of topics that are included in my definition. First, if the links represent thematic similarity between the nodes (publications), then the communities reflect a shared knowledge base (bibliographic coupling creates these kinds of links). And second, if the links represent communication relations, then the communities represent dense communication in the sense of Kuhn (direct citations create these kinds of links). Thus, bibliometric studies always implicitly operationalize the idea of a shared commitment to knowledge when they search for dense structures in networks.

When looking closer at the properties and assumptions of different community detection algorithms in this context, it appears worthwhile to differentiate between global algorithms and local algorithms, due to their difference in the general underlying idea. By *local algorithms*, I mean specifically those solving the cohesion/separation problem for an individual community by evaluating only its immediate neighborhood and ignoring statistics of the rest of the network (Fortunato, 2010, p. 84). Global algorithms are those that solve the cohesion/separation problem by using statistics from the entire network to form a partition (Fortunato, 2010, p. 85). In bibliometrics, so far, global approaches have taken precedence over local algorithms which, on the other hand, have not gained much attention.

The general assumptions behind both groups of optimization algorithms are (a) that the sought network communities (however different they may be) represent the structures of interest, and typically (b) that one single function that gets optimized can best detect these structures^{5}. In this study, I will take assumption (a) as given because, as mentioned above, a topic is likely characterized by intensified communication, which, in turn, would engender more dense citation patterns, which might be represented as network communities. Assumption (b) I also accept at this moment, and this point will be taken up later in the discussion.

As the definition of community inscribed in an algorithm (plus optimization function) is different and very characteristic in each of the analyzed algorithms (and in their optimization function), and this should be relevant for the evaluation of topic structures, I will first take a closer look at community definitions in algorithms. This will then be followed by the list of the abovementioned further evaluation criteria for the four community detection algorithms in order to evaluate if these agree with the properties of the topics.

### 4.1. General Considerations About Algorithms’ Community Definitions

Each of the analyzed algorithms as optimization algorithms for community detection optimizes a predefined function (“optimization function”). Once the algorithm has finished (i.e., has achieved its optimization goal), the output represents the algorithm’s specific way of achieving a partition into communities where the optimization function cannot be optimized further with this algorithm. The idea of what a community “is” is not provided by an “*a priori* definition” (Fortunato, 2010, p. 84), and no “definition is universally accepted” (Fortunato, 2010, p. 83). The definition is to a large degree inscribed into this optimization function, and the algorithm is usually “built around” the idea inscribed into the optimization function^{6}, which also contributes to the (implicit) community definition. As different algorithms represent unique approaches to optimize these functions, and these differences also influence the algorithms’ implicit definitions of communities, I will in this paper differentiate between algorithms and optimization functions, but structure the paper with the algorithms, acknowledging that each combination of the two leads to unique (implicit) community definitions.

The very basic notion underlying many community definitions in the literature is that “there must be more edges ‘inside’ the community than edges linking vertices of the community with the rest of the graph” (Fortunato, 2010, p. 84). Fortunato and Hric (2016, p. 6) state that “[f]or a proper community definition, one should take into account both the internal cohesion of the candidate subgraph and its separation from the rest of the network.” Because maximally cohesive components that are well separated from their environment (in the extreme: isolated cliques) in the network are rarely found in networks (Havemann, Gläser, & Heinz, 2019), a multicriteria optimization problem to empirically detect communities is created. Each community detection algorithm must therefore find a compromise between the separation of the communities and the internal cohesion of the same.

The question as to how a highly cohesive structure in network communities could be identified has various answers (Havemann et al., 2019), including searching for a high internal conductance value (communities should be hard to split), a high-density region (many links between nodes), a region with a high clustering coefficient (number of links in nodes’ neighborhoods divided by possible links) (Yang & Leskovec, 2014) or a high value of the second eigenvalue of the community’s Laplacian matrix (Tibély, 2012), which can be a measure of cohesion because a higher second eigenvalue indicates graphs being hard to split. There is not only no agreed-upon answer to this question of cohesion measures, but one can also find that this question is hardly ever discussed (Tibély, 2012, p. 1832), and the definition of cohesion (as is the case for community definitions) typically remains implicit.

What separation means, on the other hand, seems more agreed upon, namely the minimum links to other communities. However, because networks do not have clear-cut structures when an algorithm maximizes cohesion for a structure, it will not maximize separation and vice versa.

Another issue that should also be considered is the idea of each algorithm to optimize one function for the entire network^{7}. This might collide with the expectation that these will reconstruct sufficient variability of structural forms in the network.

### 4.2. Criteria for Algorithm Analysis

For the assessment of the properties of the algorithms (step 3, Figure 1), and their correspondence (step 4) with the topic properties, I select criteria for the algorithm analysis. The algorithms need to fulfil these criteria to obtain results that have the properties of topics (Table 1).

**Table 1.**

Properties of topics
. | Definition
. | Criteria for algorithm analysis
. |
---|---|---|

Cohesion | Dense communication/Thematic similarity | Structures searched for (community definition) |

Cohesion-separation trade-off | ||

Various structural forms | Knowledge connected in different ways | Structures searched for |

User’s degrees of freedom | ||

Local | Researchers define topics | Use of local information |

Overlapping | One bibliometric entity belongs to several topics | Finding overlaps and hierarchies |

Variable size | Extent and degree of researchers’ engagement with a topic | Flexible size distribution |

Properties of topics
. | Definition
. | Criteria for algorithm analysis
. |
---|---|---|

Cohesion | Dense communication/Thematic similarity | Structures searched for (community definition) |

Cohesion-separation trade-off | ||

Various structural forms | Knowledge connected in different ways | Structures searched for |

User’s degrees of freedom | ||

Local | Researchers define topics | Use of local information |

Overlapping | One bibliometric entity belongs to several topics | Finding overlaps and hierarchies |

Variable size | Extent and degree of researchers’ engagement with a topic | Flexible size distribution |

#### 4.2.1. Definition of community/separation and cohesion

With this criterion, I attempt to elucidate a better understanding of what can be said about the community definitions that are implicit in the approaches and how the necessary trade-off between separation and cohesion in the network has been dealt with. From the various possible definitions of cohesion mentioned above (Havemann et al., 2019), which all share a reference to a high density of connections, I define a cohesive community as a subgraph with a structural form that is hard to split (Tibély, 2012) (i.e., a high number of links need to be removed to split the subgraph). I define structural forms as topological classes, as differentiated by Estrada (2007)—see examples in Figure 2.

#### 4.2.2. Use of local information

I define a local algorithm as one that solves the cohesion/separation problem for one community by only assessing its immediate neighborhood (examples can be found in Fagnan, Zaiane, and Barbosa (2014) or Hamann, Röhrs, and Wagner (2017)). As a global algorithm, on the other hand, I define one that uses information about the whole graph to partition it into communities. It has to make compromises to decide on a partition, considering more parts of the network beyond a community’s immediate neighborhood to make the node assignments (i.e., the decision for the assignment of a node to a community depends also on more distant parts of the network). Because of the many algorithms that combine both local and global elements, I consider this property to be fluid.

#### 4.2.3. Finding overlaps and hierarchies

Can the algorithm be used to construct communities that overlap in their boundaries or even pervasively, and how does the algorithm achieve this? Are hierarchies in the network detected (or even poly-hierarchies, i.e., complex hierarchies) and how can the algorithm be used to obtain these?

#### 4.2.4. Flexible size distribution

Does the algorithm force a certain community size distribution, or is the size distribution determined by the structure of the network?

#### 4.2.5. Users’ degrees of freedom

Usually, the users of algorithms need to set some parameters to specify the behavior of the algorithm. Which decisions does the algorithm require from the user and to which degree does this contribute to the constructedness^{8} of the result? More degrees of freedom can be helpful if they support tuning an algorithm to the bibliometric task or finding various structural forms. Fewer degrees of freedom may prevent exploring the “sample space.” At the same time, many degrees of freedom may make the link between parameters and the outcomes nontransparent. Some important parameters are briefly analyzed, as a deeper investigation would comprise a separate study.

The abovementioned properties of topics and the corresponding criteria for the algorithms are shown in Table 1. To my knowledge, both have never been considered and applied before in the context of mapping.

## 5. ANALYSIS OF ALGORITHMS

Table 2 briefly lists the results of the analysis of the algorithms’ properties. In the following, each algorithm is analyzed individually.

**Table 2.**

. | Community definition/separation-cohesion
. | Degree of local and global information usage
. | Hierarchies
. | Overlapping
. | Preference of size
. | Users’ degrees of freedom
. |
---|---|---|---|---|---|---|

Louvain | Dense community, focus on separation | Mainly global | Not directly | No | No | Resolution parameter, optimization function, random seed |

Leiden | Dense community, focus on separation and slightly cohesion | Global and partly local | Not directly | No | No | Resolution parameter, optimization function, random seed |

OSLOM | Statistically significant community, cohesion likely, separation not an issue | Local and partly global | Yes | Pervasive | No | Coverage parameter, p-value, random seed, singletons |

Infomap | Nodes’ closeness, focus on separation | Mainly global | Yes | In boundaries | No | Two- or multilevel solution, detection of overlaps, random seed |

. | Community definition/separation-cohesion
. | Degree of local and global information usage
. | Hierarchies
. | Overlapping
. | Preference of size
. | Users’ degrees of freedom
. |
---|---|---|---|---|---|---|

Louvain | Dense community, focus on separation | Mainly global | Not directly | No | No | Resolution parameter, optimization function, random seed |

Leiden | Dense community, focus on separation and slightly cohesion | Global and partly local | Not directly | No | No | Resolution parameter, optimization function, random seed |

OSLOM | Statistically significant community, cohesion likely, separation not an issue | Local and partly global | Yes | Pervasive | No | Coverage parameter, p-value, random seed, singletons |

Infomap | Nodes’ closeness, focus on separation | Mainly global | Yes | In boundaries | No | Two- or multilevel solution, detection of overlaps, random seed |

### 5.1. Louvain Algorithm/Leiden Algorithm

#### 5.1.1. Background: How does it work?

Developed in 2008, the Louvain algorithm (Blondel, Guillaume et al., 2008) represented a novel heuristic to optimize a network partition quality function and efficiently determine this partition. In an agglomerative manner, two steps are repeated several times. After starting with each node in its own community, individual nodes are moved between communities, which induces the maximum (global) increase of the optimization function. Once this cannot be improved further, a new network is constructed with the previously created communities as nodes, and then the previous local moving phase is repeated, which eventually leads to a hierarchical result.

It turned out that the greedy optimization performed by the Louvain algorithm can create some problems in the results with respect to the quality of individual communities, among them completely internally disconnected communities. The Leiden algorithm was developed to improve this (Traag, Waltman, & van Eck, 2019). It generally builds on the idea of the Louvain algorithm but includes refining steps in the aggregation process, where communities in the found partition are again checked to see if they can be split. Nodes are here moved between the communities not necessarily greedily (i.e., such that the global optimization function gets the highest increase), but with a random factor (ibid., 5).

#### 5.1.2. Definition of community/separation and cohesion

Both algorithms take up the general idea of the functions they seek to optimize, which is to find an optimal partition of the network via community structure. The focus is thus more on finding a community (modular) structure in the network, rather than defining individual communities. Therefore, the definition of a (individual) community remains implicit. Typical optimization functions for these algorithms are modularity or the Constant Potts Model (CPM), but other optimization functions can be used as well.

**Optimization functions**The community definition of the CPM may be explained as follows: A community is a set of members where the most connections between the members are realized, compared to the possible connections that could be there

^{9}. Only members in the considered community determine how many connections can possibly be realized, and thereby if a new member will be part of the community. Modularity’s community definition, on the other hand, is oriented more globally, in that a community is considered a set of members where more connections are realized than would be expected from counting the global number of connections existing in the network, and then determining the expected number of internal connections. Here, the other parts of the network thus also influence whether a new member will be part of the community. Both optimization functions can include a resolution parameter, which changes, as in the case of CPM, if all the possibly realizable connections are counted (resolution value of 1), or if a higher or lower resolution value changes this calculation. This resolution parameter can be considered a slight modification to the implicit community definition of the optimization function.**Algorithms**Once the algorithms terminate, their result will represent their best way to have optimized the quality function

^{10}. Regardless of the optimization function used, both algorithms show differences in the implicit community definition due to their different workflows. In the case of Louvain, while moving the nodes in between communities, the resulting communities could eventually be internally disconnected (communities have low or no cohesion), which cannot happen with the Leiden algorithm. Obviously, the greedy, agglomerative approach of the Louvain algorithm for achieving the optimal result neglects internal cohesion, even though the abovementioned optimization functions are actually used to find dense edge structures. The Leiden algorithm, on the other hand, gives slightly more importance to internal cohesion, due to the refinement phases, but also here creating structures with high internal cohesion is not the main objective of the algorithm.Both algorithms focus more on good separation in the partition they create through their local reassignment of nodes until the function is optimized, even though the actual focus is not on maximizing separation.

Figure 3 shows four selected structures of communities from the results of both algorithms, which were applied to a typical citation network taken from my previous project^{11}, after the optimization of modularity (top row, both with resolution 3) and CPM (bottom row, resolution 5 × 10^{−4}). The nodes represent publications, (unweighted) edges represent citations, and the layout was created with ForceAtlas2. These kinds of (“drawn-out”) structures are not hard to split, and thus cannot be considered cohesive. The selection shown here is not representative, however, but shows communities that can easily occur across a wide range of resolution values. The examples here were found by ranking the communities of a solution according to the second eigenvalue of their subgraph’s Laplacian (Tibély, 2012). Lower values indicate communities that are easy to split.

#### 5.1.3. Use of local information

As each of the two algorithms represents a method that uses statistics from the entire network to find a (globally optimal) partition, both represent global algorithms. However, the degree of consideration of local information differs slightly between the algorithms, and, furthermore, as mentioned above, different optimization functions chosen for the algorithm also differ in the relative importance they assign to local information. Because the Leiden algorithm makes much more use of local statistics (considering local edge weights), it can be considered to some degree to be more “local” than Louvain. The same holds for the modularity and CPM optimization functions, where the CPM is an optimization function that can be calculated for one community solely with local statistics (but in the case of the Leiden and Louvain algorithms it is calculated for all communities to find a global partition), compared to the completely global orientation of modularity.

#### 5.1.4. Finding overlaps

Both algorithms produce disjoint communities in a partition and thus do not reconstruct overlapping structures.

#### 5.1.5. Finding hierarchies

Hierarchies are not directly provided with the (default) results. This is because partitions produced in the intermediate steps are suboptimal solutions according to the optimization function (i.e., a more aggregated result will be created if it improves the optimization function). The optimum for each given resolution parameter is a nonhierarchical solution, and solutions with different resolution parameters cannot be matched to each other. Nevertheless, one could also view the solutions at different resolution levels as a possibility to examine a poly-hierarchy. Or the clusters of one solution could be aggregated (e.g., based on the citation relations between the clusters, as has been done in Waltman and van Eck (2012)) to obtain a strict hierarchy.

#### 5.1.6. Flexible size distribution

Through the resolution parameter included in the two optimization functions, more coarse-grained or more fine-grained results allow for a lot of flexibility in the sizes of the communities. Using the CPM avoids the resolution limit of modularity (Traag, Van Dooren, & Nesterov, 2011), thus making it possible to also detect very small clusters in very large networks. Experience shows that in bibliometric networks the cluster size distribution of more coarse-grained solutions (low resolution value) follows a power law distribution, with a few very large clusters and many smaller ones, while increasing the resolution more and more leads to a more balanced cluster size distribution, for both CPM and modularity^{12}.

#### 5.1.7. Degrees of freedom as a user

Next to the already mentioned resolution parameter (-r), which one must specify beforehand and will have an influence on the cluster sizes, the seed (–seed) for the random number generator can be fixed to allow for the reproduction of results. The quality function (optimization function, -q) can be chosen, either modularity or CPM. Furthermore, if there are edge weights provided with the network, these can be chosen to be included in the calculations of the optimization function (-w) or not (then each edge gets a value of 1). For instance, in the case of CPM, because it is working with local edge weights, this will create not only edge-dense structures (as in the case of edge value 1), but specifically areas with higher edge weights will be considered denser than areas with lower edge weights. Both the option for a choice of optimization function and the inclusion of edge weights allow for some degree of variability in the structures detected.

### 5.2. Order Statistics Local Optimization Method (OSLOM)

#### 5.2.1. Background: How does it work?

This algorithm has been developed by Lancichinetti, Radicchi et al. (2011). It is based on the idea to optimize a function that assesses the statistical significance of each community (i.e., the probability that nodes with their edges to this community could also have been found there randomly). Here, it is not the quality of the whole partition of the network that is evaluated, but the quality of individual communities. OSLOM starts with a random selection of single nodes as seeds for communities and repeatedly adds significant neighbors to nodes to let the communities grow. Significance is determined here via a comparison to an edge configuration that is based on a null model (i.e., a network without community structure, similar to what is used in the modularity calculation). In cases where parts of the network are close to structures of random networks, they might end up unassigned, being part of no community. Each of the neighbors (nodes) of the existing community is evaluated for inclusion, and it is included if the number of links to the community is much more than expected randomly. Next to the evaluation for inclusion, it is also repeatedly evaluated if internal nodes can be “pruned” (discarded), which is also done by significance evaluation. The algorithm is repeated several times from the start with different seed sets, and when communities (with a certain overlap over the runs) are repeatedly found, the algorithm will converge. Considering the results of several repetitions, the algorithm searches for the minimum significant communities (i.e., communities that cannot be combined with neighboring ones because they do not “overlap” sufficiently with others over the runs).

#### 5.2.2. Definition of community/separation and cohesion

By comparing the grown communities to a null model (random network) (i.e., assessing the likelihood for the found structures to have occurred randomly), OSLOM defines a community statistically, by qualifying communities as structures found “unexpectedly unlikely.” Eventually, this, again, means that more internal edges are there than expected, here compared to a null model. The perspective of a community is constructed locally (i.e., a community is considered a community from the very perspective of this random-seed-grown community with respect to its direct surrounding). Thus, some nodes of one community might be considered part of another community from another “neighboring” perspective (community).

The trade-off between cohesion and separation is here again approached through the actions of the algorithm and its application of the optimization function. The optimization function is based on statistical significance and includes nodes that connect well to the community—which is likely to lead to good cohesion, but the comparison with the global null model indicates that local cohesion is not the sole focus. Another aspect that can contribute to generating cohesive structures is that the algorithm checks for the minimum significant structures and decides whether to merge or split communities. In general, OSLOM does not take much effort to increase the separation, as only finding a cover of the network is the aim, not an entire partition.

#### 5.2.3. Use of local information

The OSLOM algorithm can be considered more a local than a global approach. When OSLOM considers the significance of a community, it considers the surrounding of each seed-grown community to add significant nodes from the perspective of each community, which is one aspect in which it can be considered a local approach. Still, as all parts of the network are “touched” several times for finding communities in the entire network, it can be considered not a fully local approach.

#### 5.2.4. Finding overlaps

Exploring the significance of structures from several seed nodes can create parts of the network where nodes are considered to be significant additions to more than one community. Thereby, even pervasive overlaps can be created by OSLOM.

#### 5.2.5. Finding hierarchies

In principle, OSLOM is able to detect a poly-hierarchy in a network. After finding the smallest significant communities, it then builds a new network from these communities by using these as new nodes, where again each node addition is assessed for significance. In this way, it is continued until no more significant communities are found in the next coarser level, and potentially several levels of a hierarchy are found.

#### 5.2.6. Flexible size distribution

Very small communities can be found in these minimum significant structures, and, through repeated aggregation, also very large significant communities can be found (the largest in the highest hierarchical level). Thus, it allows a lot of flexibility in community sizes.

#### 5.2.7. Degrees of freedom as a user

One major decision that has to be made is about the significance level P (which decides whether a found community is significant). This influences the size of the communities found, with lower values leading to larger communities (fewer communities) and higher values to smaller ones (more communities). Also, here the -seed for the random number generator can be set. Other relevant parameters include the coverage parameter (-cp) to change the size of the communities, and to ignore “homeless” nodes -singlet can be used.

### 5.3. Infomap

#### 5.3.1. Background: How does it work?

Infomap is the name of a search algorithm that seeks to optimize an information-theoretic quantity in a network (called the map equation). It was developed by Rosvall, Axelsson, and Bergstrom (2009) and utilizes the generalized principle known from information theory that regularities in data can be used to compress the data (in the style of Shannon and Weaver, who introduced this way of thinking in 1948). Thus, pattern recognition and information compression are combined. The regularities in the network are detected by random walks (used as proxies for “real” flow in the network), which “walk” through the network by jumping from node to node and counting the frequencies of visits to each node. If the network contains regions (“modules”), the random walker visits these nodes more frequently. To find the shape of this frequently visited region, the goal is defined to code each step of the random walker with the least amount of information (to most efficiently code the entire walk of the random walker). This goal is best achieved when frequently visited nodes get a shorter (more efficient) code (the specific code used is based on Huffman coding, explained in Rosvall and Bergstrom (2008, p. 1118)).

The efficient coding scheme also reuses (at least parts of) the coding scheme within one module (“module codebook”) when the random walker visits another module (Bohlin, Edler et al., 2014, p. 6). To complete the encoding of the random walk and be able to reuse the codes of the node visits in each module, the leaving and entering of a module is recorded by the “index codebook.” Thus, the “map equation gauges how successful different network partitions are at finding regularities in the flow on the network” (Esquivel & Rosvall, 2011, p. 2).

The abovementioned quantity (the random walker description length), called the *map equation*, is minimized with a procedure that the Louvain algorithm also uses. Initially, each node is in its own community (“module”). Then, in a random sequential order, neighboring communities are joined, resulting in the largest decrease in the map equation. If this is finished, the same process now repeats with the previously resulting communities as nodes, representing a hierarchical rebuilding of the network. Similar to the Leiden algorithm, a refining procedure looks again at the modules and checks for possible single node and submodule movements to further improve the result (Bohlin et al., 2014, p. 9). This whole procedure has been generalized to detect hierarchical and overlapping structures as well, which I will analyze in the respective section below.

#### 5.3.2. Definition of community/separation and cohesion

From the above, it follows that a community (“module”) can be considered as a set of nodes where nodes inside the community can visit each other more easily (with fewer steps) than nodes outside the community. It is a region in the network where (theoretical) flow between the nodes is more easily “trapped” in the community, whereas the random walker represents the (possible) flow. This means that the random walker has a higher persistence probability in this region. The aspect of being trapped represents the general focus of Infomap on separation. On the other hand, the refining step, when each module is checked again for submodules, allows for the detection of smaller and smaller structures (submodules), and also represents a consideration for cohesion. In Figure 4, an example is given of a (star-like) community that Infomap has constructed in a citation network (cf. footnote 11). These kinds of structures are preferentially treated by Infomap, because, with a high-degree node included, clearly every node can be reached easily from everywhere. Again, this is not a representative sample, either, but it illustrates a problem.

#### 5.3.3. Use of local information

For the creation of the modules to find the minimum description length of a random walker, information from the entire network is used, and thus Infomap must be considered a global algorithm. Especially when perturbing the number of intermodule links in one place of the network, this then can affect the optimal partitioning of the whole network (Tibély, 2011, pp. 103–104).

#### 5.3.4. Finding overlaps

An extension of Infomap has been provided by Esquivel and Rosvall to allow for “border nodes” to belong to more than one module. This can be the case if two modules belong to “separate flow systems with shared nodes” (Esquivel & Rosvall, 2011, p. 2). Here, after the creation of modules such that the description length is minimal, it is checked if the assignment of boundary nodes to several modules could further decrease the value of the map equation.

#### 5.3.5. Finding hierarchies

Infomap is also able to detect modules at different levels of a hierarchy (Rosvall & Bergstrom, 2011). The “standard” two-level compression does not detect hierarchies, but the multilevel compression option does. Here, the algorithm checks if the introduction of additional (hierarchically nested) index codebooks at a coarser level can further reduce the description length. Thus, two or several levels of hierarchy can possibly be detected. In this hierarchy, like in a typical dendrogram, one node belongs to exactly one branch (no poly-hierarchy).

#### 5.3.6. Flexible size distribution

The multilevel option in particular allows for flexibility in the detection of very small modules at the lowest level of the hierarchy, as well as very coarse modules at the highest level. The resolution limit (when small modules are undetectable) known from modularity does not seem a relevant issue (Kawamoto & Rosvall, 2015).

#### 5.3.7. Degrees of freedom as a user

Relevant options for the user concern the already mentioned options to detect overlapping and multilevel structures. By default, Infomap uses multilevel compression, and thus can possibly automatically detect several levels in the hierarchy (the parameter –two-level disables this), and also by default does not include the search for overlapping nodes (–overlapping enables this). Another option regards the seed for the random number generator (–seed*n*) which makes it possible to reproduce the results^{13}.

## 6. DISCUSSION

In this paper, the correspondence of the properties of a set of algorithms with the properties of sociologically defined topics was assessed. The properties of topics were derived from a definition of “topic” that builds on the established idea of a topic as an object of the shared commitment of researchers. To evaluate and compare whether algorithms are suitable to reconstruct a certain phenomenon from data, the *conditio sine qua non* here is to have a clear conceptualization of the phenomenon in question, including an explicit theoretical definition that explicates the properties that are to be reconstructed. This is what I started with.

My results indicate that the algorithms that are commonly applied for the task of reconstructing topics are, one the one hand—due to their properties—prone to creating various artifacts in the results, but, on the other hand, each algorithm and its accompanying optimization function produces communities that more or less match some of the properties of topics.

### 6.1. Do Communities in Networks Represent Communities in Science?

According to the topic definition used here, every topic should “have” a scientific community (in the Kuhnian sense). And topics and scientific communities have certain characteristics. Scientific communities are, according to Kuhn (2012/1962, p. 176), characterized by “relatively full” communication and do exist on “various levels.” It can thus be assumed that dense communication is something to search for to find scientific communities and topics. But are the algorithms optimizing for density? After all, finding dense structures in networks is what “community detection” algorithms are built to achieve (Fortunato & Hric, 2016, p. 7) and what makes them a plausible choice for analyzing networks. This is also what all four analyzed algorithms aim for, finding subgraphs that are particularly dense—yet each one in a different way with diverging ideas behind how to (re)construct communities.

#### 6.1.1. Considerations of cohesion and local character of communities

The Leiden and Louvain algorithms search for dense structures by their specific approach to optimize modularity or CPM (two functions with different ideas of density), yet they also “accept” communities that are only mildly cohesive or even disconnected (i.e., not cohesive at all: see Figure 3). Infomap uses the map equation to find density by creating modules that keep a random walker trapped, which ensures that each node in the module can be reached easily. This can, in the extreme, also be a community with a (network) star in the middle (i.e., one high-degree node/highly cited publication with the others attached only to this one (in the case of direct citations)), and this does not necessarily represent a dense communication context. OSLOM’s focus on the statistical significance of the new nodes with respect to the current (single) grown community represents a focus on cohesion, and OSLOM is the only algorithm that ignores surrounding nodes if they do not fulfill this criterion of significance. Thus, not sufficiently well-connected nodes are then not added to the community.

Ideally, a topic reconstruction algorithm focuses on the cohesion in the construction of the communities, and the separation of communities would only be a secondary result of that. The globally oriented algorithms of my analysis (Louvain, Leiden, Infomap) cannot maximize the cohesion of all communities, as they have to optimize an entire partition, and cohesion may be ignored, and in some cases be “sacrificed” in the compromise with good separation between the communities (see Figure 3). Reid, McDaid, and Hurley (2013) demonstrated that modularity optimizing algorithms disregard cohesion to the extent that they cut through cliques. The focus of Infomap is only partially on individual communities by focusing on the flow in local structures, but the main focus is on optimizing the partition such that information can flow efficiently. Thus, the local structures found are always affected by the entire network, which is not in line with the local character of topics. OSLOM assesses the quality of single communities rather than the quality of a partition of the whole network (advantages of this approach are discussed in Fortunato and Hric (2016, p. 33)). Thus, it does not need to find a global compromise and can ensure a higher degree of cohesion compared to the other algorithms. Yet, OSLOM also does not focus mainly on cohesion, and even though it is called a local algorithm by the authors, its requirement of statistics from the entire network to assess the significance of the communities found makes it not entirely local.

Therefore, none of the global algorithms optimizes the cohesion of individual communities. They mainly optimize the partition and mainly focus on separation. The Leiden algorithm has a mild focus on cohesion, while Louvain almost none. Infomap’s focus on the smallest modules ensures some cohesion, as is the case for OSLOM. It is thus difficult to provide a detailed ranking of the algorithms with respect to the cohesion property. For a more specific comparison, this would have to be shown empirically in future work.

#### 6.1.2. Tolerance of algorithms for variations in size and structures of communities

That science shows itself in different kinds of communication or thematic structures is indicated by the literature mentioned in Section 3.2. From that, it can be inferred that different types of topics must exist and each “topic type”^{14} is characterized by distinct communication structures with differences in *scope*. These topic types, then, are likely to correspond to different kinds of *structural types* in bibliometric networks (cf. topological types in Estrada (2007)). The task is then to be able to reconstruct these distinct communication structures represented by distinct structural types in networks. Which types of topics the four algorithms with their optimization functions are able to reconstruct is currently difficult to answer. First, we lack knowledge about the types of topics and about their representation in bibliometric networks. Second, the partition-oriented algorithms create “specific” individual communities only as a by-product due to their global focus on the partition.

A certain tolerance for various structures of communities is found in every algorithm. However, the focus of each algorithm on optimizing *one* function for the entire network is likely to limit the discovery of different subgraph structures, because the boundaries of these structures are not taken into account. In the case of the Leiden and Louvain algorithms, for example, both make the assumption that all (algorithmic) communities in the network *form* along the same “rules” (which manifest as a certain density pattern). In the case of Infomap, this means that all (algorithmic) communities are *characterized* by an efficient flow pattern. Further analyses, however, would depend on knowing to which degree these assumptions agree with which topic types (and some topic types might be reconstructed by some rules for formation made by the algorithms, or topic types that are characterized by efficient flow). What we know so far is, however, that (dense) communication structures are very different in different scientific fields (Colavizza et al., 2019) and that relevant differences exist in the knowledge production of the various sciences (Nagi & Corwin, 1972, pp. 6–7; Whitley, 1977).

Regarding the flexibility in size distribution, all four algorithms are flexible and produce community sizes across the whole range. No relevant differences need to be discussed between the four algorithms.

#### 6.1.3. Overlaps and hierarchies

Different topics can overlap in their boundaries, or pervasively, with the possibility of even forming poly-hierarchical relationships between them. Algorithms for topic reconstruction should account for that. The three global algorithms optimize the partition to obtain a disjunct partition, contradicting the *overlapping* character of topics and communication structures. Even though there is also a variation of Infomap for overlapping “modules,” the general thinking behind these algorithms is to take a global “partition perspective,” and a local phenomenon such as a topic, which stays local, is not in the focus. OSLOM, on the other hand, allows for overlaps and can be considered closer to topic properties in this case.

For the possibilities of each of the four algorithms to extract *hierarchies* in networks, it should be noted that what hierarchy means is specific to each algorithm. The different solutions of the Louvain and Leiden algorithms that can be obtained with an added resolution parameter to the optimization functions make it possible to extract different levels of aggregation, but there are already indications that algorithmic *resolution* does not mean that by tuning the resolution one can extract scientific community structures at different levels of aggregation (Held et al., 2021). Infomap detects, when using the multilevel solution, in the coarser solutions those partitions where information can flow even more efficiently. When topics are considered as entities where information can flow efficiently—as Infomap assumes—then these higher level partitions might provide interesting insights. Nevertheless, as I have mentioned earlier, the focus of Infomap to optimize a partition is not in line with the local character of topics, and each node cannot be part of a poly-hierarchy. Thus, the meaning of these hierarchical levels also has to be taken with caution in the context of topic reconstruction. OSLOM, on the other hand, intends to build significant hierarchical levels from its local orientation. It allows also for poly-hierarchies, which can be considered more in accordance with this topic property.

Havemann et al. (2019) highlight the general difficulty of the best trade-off between separation and cohesion when communities are assumed to comprise core–periphery structures and communities are included in other communities. This further complicates the search for suitable algorithms, even though there are many algorithms available that can detect overlapping structures (next to OSLOM and Infomap included here). For example, some of them are based on clustering links instead of nodes (Ahn, Bagrow, & Lehmann, 2010; Evans & Lambiotte, 2009; Havemann et al., 2017), or based on locally grown communities (related to the idea of OSLOM) which naturally overlap (Huang, Sun et al., 2011; Whang, Gleich, & Dhillon, 2013) and generative models such as stochastic block models (Peixoto, 2019).

### 6.2. Applying General-Purpose Algorithms for Bibliometric Tasks?

The algorithms analyzed here are general-purpose algorithms, requiring only nodes and edges as input (i.e., they can be used for various tasks). Aldecoa and Marín (2013) have shown that no algorithm is suitable to cluster all kinds of networks, and Dao, Bothorel, and Lenca (2020, p. 3) provide good reasons why “choosing the community detection method that corresponds well to a particular scenario or to an expectation of quality is not straightforward.” This raises the question of whether the four are particularly suitable for the bibliometric task of topic reconstruction. My analysis has shown that this is not necessarily the case. The ideas of each algorithm’s developers are not necessarily applicable for this task. Next to the very general-purpose algorithms (Leiden, Louvain, and OSLOM), Infomap could perhaps be considered an algorithm with slightly more specific application orientation compared to the others, where it might be easier to determine if this is a suitable algorithm for the specific application. The specific assumption on the input network that Infomap makes is that there is (directed) flow present in the network, made possible by the interconnections. The developers imagine potential fields of application (where patterns of flow play a role), and even mention the (potential) suitability of their algorithm for “bibliometric analysis” (Bohlin et al., 2014, p. 3), because their random walker could be considered a model for researchers navigating the publications. While it is our task to reflect on the idea of what moving a random walker on citations means, it becomes more difficult to imagine to what degree the (potential) benefits of the goal to “trap” the flow in the network via the creation of “modules” for our bibliometric task are impacted.

The other basic assumption that all three global algorithms (in contrast to OSLOM) make is that all nodes in the network are members of communities (i.e., that every publication contributes to a topic that is represented in the network). This, certainly, is something that can be questioned in the topic reconstruction context. It has, for example, been shown by Boyack and Klavans (2014) and by Held and Velden (2022) that every graph has its relevant environment that might be unduly excluded in an analysis. Thus, publications in a network might belong to a community that is located largely outside that network.

Even though my analysis did not consider the role of the data model (direct citation model vs. bibliographic coupling model, etc.) that one has to choose in conjunction with an algorithm for a topic reconstruction exercise, which I believe is important and should be analyzed by researchers conducting empirical bibliometric analysis using an algorithm and a data model (as done by Boyack and Klavans (2010), for example), the analysis, however, indicates that several deficits, among them the assumption that all nodes are part of (scientific) communities, cannot be overcome by choosing (more) appropriate data models.

## 7. CONCLUSIONS

None of the four analyzed algorithms is able to reconstruct topics as defined in the context of the sociology of science. One or more properties of each algorithm do not match the properties of topics derived from my definition. As the criteria cannot be weighted, I cannot conclude a ranking of the algorithms’ suitability for topic reconstruction. Rather, I could provide a framework on which future research can build to accumulate knowledge on what a particular choice of algorithm means for a bibliometric application. For the task of topic reconstruction, this analysis helps to guide the further search for the most suitable algorithms. Yet, a lot of work is still ahead of us, such that we can expect to reconstruct meaningful representations of topics. On the technical side, we need algorithms that are specifically developed to better match the properties of topics and where community definitions are inscribed that are related to actual scientific communities associated with topics, which brings me to necessary knowledge from the sociology of science. I would like to use the argument of Lievrouw of coming back to the communication processes behind the bibliometric networks and the definition of topics as shared frames of reference. If we, for example, understood the communication processes of researchers who focus on a *method topic* in a field, we could learn something from contrasting these with communication processes associated with a different topic type. Knowledge about these topic types can only be acquired by analyzing the research and communication behavior of the researchers themselves. Only then can the bibliometric traces of these topics in the publications be identified and more suitable algorithms found or developed to reconstruct these traces.

What could be learned from this analysis of the four algorithms is that each represents a general-purpose algorithm that makes certain assumptions on the input and optimizes a specific mathematical quantity. These are developed independently of specific applications. Translating the assumptions of the algorithms and the optimization functions seems to be a difficult task, yet an absolutely necessary one for scientific work. It is our job in a field of application to do the “translation task” from the “world of algorithms,” where often algorithms are (only) tested for performance (speed) and a certain (mathematical) quality measure, into the world of application, with its specific necessities. When we as bibliometricians apply an algorithm to a network with the goal to reconstruct topics, the in-built definitions of communities of the algorithms need to be understood, as well as the intricacies of the chosen data model and its interaction with the algorithm (such as the role of review papers in the network and influence on the communities searched for).

I have shown that each algorithm comes from a different tradition and uses different (implicit) definitions of a community in a network. None of these definitions appears to fit the diversity of dense communication structures occurring in science. This diversity can only be reconstructed with a more differentiated approach, accounting for the different topic types that form in science and the associated communication.

Thinking in terms of analyzing algorithms before using them, which has been done here, helped to learn about the assumptions and properties of algorithms, as using a tool without knowing how it is working and what it is for will very likely create biased results.

Future work could also start exploring other local algorithms which explore the network entirely (or mostly) locally, as this has been largely neglected so far. These local algorithms, like OSLOM, focus on finding network communities around specified seed nodes, thus naturally capturing the “perspectives” of individual nodes and yielding overlapping structures. Jeub, Balachandran et al. (2015) provide a general argument for that (see also Schaub, Delvenne et al. (2017, p. 5)), which might be in line with the local nature of topics.

## ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I am grateful for the fruitful comments of two anonymous reviewers. Furthermore, I acknowledge support by the German Research Foundation and the Open Access Publication Fund of TU Berlin.

## COMPETING INTERESTS

The author has no competing interests.

## FUNDING INFORMATION

The work of MH was supported by the German Ministry of Education and Research (Grant 16PU17003).

## DATA AVAILABILITY

This study did not use any data.

## Notes

^{1}

Other definitions of topics could also be given, but these still would have to be developed.

^{2}

It shall not be forgotten here that only focusing on the bibliometric structures, such as citations, neglects important aspects of science. Lievrouw (1989, p. 616) highlights that there are communication processes relevant for the researchers “behind” the bibliometric (structural) network, and these communication processes should not be neglected in our studies (see also Edge, 1979).

^{3}

Note that some properties are on a binary scale (e.g., local/global) and algorithms’ properties might agree or not, while other topic properties are fuzzier and the degree of alignment has to be assessed (e.g., variability in structural forms).

^{4}

“Community” is a specific term in network science, referring to specific, yet not uniquely specified, structural entities in networks. Equipped with a completely different meaning is “scientific community,” which stands for researchers focusing on and contributing to a knowledge base.

^{5}

Note that not all relevant larger structures in networks need to be communities (Newman, 2012), and some community detection algorithms use multiple optimization functions (Wu & Pan, 2015).

^{6}

For instance, the Louvain algorithm has, first and foremost, been programmed to optimize the modularity of a partition. The Leiden algorithm is programmed mainly to optimize CPM (explained in Section 5) and modularity, and Infomap is built to find the optimum for the map equation (see Section 5). However, one could, for example, also use the Louvain or Leiden algorithm to optimize the map equation.

^{7}

An example of research in other directions can, for example, be found in Wu and Pan (2015).

^{8}

Through the various decisions a researcher has to make for a bibliometric mapping task, they have to engage with several steps of a construction process. Ultimately, the goal is to minimize the degree of distortion created through the decisions made. At least the awareness of the construction process should be present.

^{9}

Note that I am only talking about counting the connections (edges) between members here. The same can be said and calculated in the same way using the optimization functions for using weights on each edge that are not 1 (only counting the connections means using edge weights of 1, but these weights can take any real-valued number).

^{10}

Finding the “best” partition using modularity or CPM as optimization function cannot efficiently be solved (NP-hard).

^{11}

A direct citation network used in Held and Velden (2019).

^{12}

Note that, in contrast to OSLOM, both the Louvain and Leiden algorithms assign every node to a community, irrespective of the community structure of the network (as does Infomap). This means that nodes that are barely linked in the network will still end up in a community.

^{13}

For the details, see https://www.mapequation.org/infomap/ (accessed May 18, 2021).

^{14}

A typification of specialties has been tried in the last decades, but an agreed-upon framework for characterizing and comparing types of specialties does not seem to exist.

## REFERENCES

*Professionalisation and the arithmetic ideal*

## Author notes

Handling Editor: Vincent Larivière