An atlas of health inequalities and health disparities research: "How is this all getting done in silos, and why?"

Taya A. Collyer, Katherine E. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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Abstract

Research on health inequalities and health disparities has grown exponentially since the 1960s, but this expansion has not been matched by an associated sense of progress. Criticisms include claims that too much research addresses well-trodden questions and that the field has failed to gain public and policy traction. Qualitative studies have found researchers partly attribute these challenges to fragmentation resulting from disciplinary and methodological differences. Yet, empirical investigation ('research on research') is limited. This study addresses this gap, employing mixed-methods to examine, at scale, how and why this field is defined by insular research clusters. First, bibliometric analysis identifies and visualizes the 250 most-connected authors. Next, an algorithm was used to identify clustering via citation links between authors. We used researcher profiling to ascertain authors' geographical and institutional locations and disciplinary training, examining how this mapped onto clusters. Finally, causes of siloing were investigated via semi-structured interviews with 45 researchers. The resulting ‘atlas’ of health inequalities and health disparities research identifies eight clusters of authors with varying degrees of connectedness. No single factor neatly describes observed fragmentation, health equity scholars exhibit a diverse disciplinary backgrounds, and geographical, institutional, and historical factors appear to intersect to explain siloed citation patterns. While the configuration of research activity within clusters potentially helps render questions scientifically manageable, it affirms perceptions of the field as fragmented. We draw on Thomas Kuhn and Sheila Jasanoff to position results within theoretical pictures of scientific progress. Newcomers to the field can use our findings to orient themselves within the many streams of health equity scholarship, and existing health equity scholars can use the atlas to move beyond existing geo-disciplinary networks. However, although stronger cross-cluster engagement would be likely to improve insights, the complex nexus of factors underlying the field's structure will likely make this challenging in practice.

Original languageEnglish
Article number113330
Number of pages10
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Volume264
Early online date27 Aug 2020
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 27 Aug 2020

Keywords

  • health inequalities
  • health disparities
  • bibliometric analysis
  • interviews
  • disciplinary divisions
  • health equity

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