Discussion Paper

From Science to Applications: Determinants of Diffusion in the Use of Earth Observations

Mar 5, 2010 | Molly K. Macauley, Joseph Maher, Jhih-Shyang Shih


We demonstrate the diffusion in use of Earth observations data in social science research. Our study is motivated by the continuing debate among policymakers over the value of the nation’s investment in Earth observations. We also consider the role of related factors including the spread of geographical information systems (GIS; a complementary tool for using Earth observations data) and the role of data prices. We first estimate a diffusion curve and then draw from standard bibliometric methods to evaluate further the extent to which the research field is growing. We realize that these aspects of the value of Earth observations are often part of policy debate, but we offer insights into how to substantiate and document these claims. We find evidence of increasingly widespread use of Earth observations in an ever-widening number of applications and geographic regions. GIS and data prices influence this diffusion. However, we see less evidence of a community of practice within the large social scienceliterature represented in our data. These findings have implications for steps to take to increase the benefits of Earth observations.