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Review

Rise and Demise of Bioinformatics? Promise and Progress

  • Christos A. Ouzounis mail

    ouzounis@certh.gr

    Affiliations: Institute of Agrobiotechnology, Centre for Research & Technology Hellas (CERTH), Thessaloniki, Greece, Donnelly Centre for Cellular & Biomolecular Research, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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Data sources showing use of the term 'bioinformatics' rather than search data do not support the trend claimed.

Posted by LiamF on 24 May 2012 at 03:21 GMT

One might well wonder whether the term “bioinformatics” is no longer in vogue, compared to those years a decade ago when its use seemed to be associated with great excitement and the anticipation of a new era. A casual look into Google Trends suggests a remarkable pattern of decline in appearances in Google News. To wit, the use of the term “bioinformatics”, largely reflecting news feeds for the discipline, has diminished by almost 6-fold over the past 7 years (Figure 1). The trend equation is an exponential of this form: y = 2.1395e−0.0047x and a R2 factor = 0.9636, signifying that the trend may reach y = 0.1, i.e., virtually irrelevance, in x = 651 weeks, or just over a dozen years from now. Such a trend cries out for an explanation. Why is it that a field that appeared unstoppable in all its glory just a few years ago might already be exhibiting signs of (media) fatigue? And does this trend indicate lack of progress, lack of interest, both, or none of the above? We take this graph as a stepping stone, an opportunity to discuss the above questions, bearing in mind that this is a trends analysis and not a strictly scientific discourse on the subject.
http://ploscompbiol.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002487#article1.body1.sec3.p1

The statement that use of the term 'bioinformatics' has diminished by almost 6-fold over the past 7 years is not well supported by this data. Google Trends data refers to the number of searches in Google for the term, not its usage. The claimed trend (of a six fold decline in seven years) is not present in statistics generated from MEDLINE, or by the Google Ngram data (which describes word frequency count in books digitised by Google through 2009). The MEDLINE data in fact shows a steady increase in the number of indexed papers published on a yearly basis that use the term 'bioinformatics' to the present date, and data sourced from the Google Ngram corpus shows increasing usage of the term 'bioinformatics' in print through 2006.

The paper does not take into account that an increase in awareness of bioinformatics techniques might result in an increase in search volume for specific techniques from the field and a corresponding decline in searches for the word 'bioinformatics' itself. This would fit with the narrative of bioinformatics as a developing field reaching maturity and acceptance as presented here, and would be empirically verifiable by looking at search volumes for methods outlined under the EDAM Ontology which describes bioinformatics operations, types of data, topics and data formats (see http://edamontology.sourceforge.net/)

No competing interests declared.