Issue 19 – September 2010

Articles

Identifying expertise in water management

With water becoming an increasingly scarce resource, governments around the world are eager to find innovative solutions. Research Trends analyzes the data to locate the global centers for water research.

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Although approximately two-thirds of the Earth is covered in water, just 2.5 percent of this is fresh, 70 percent of which is frozen. This means that all creatures living outside the sea have to share 0.75 percent of the world’s water. As consumption increases, governments, economists and researchers around the world are paying greater attention to the world’s supply of fresh water.

Painting an accurate picture of how universities and countries are performing on water research is critical for identifying the potential solutions emerging from this science. Without proper insight, academic and government bodies cannot make appropriate funding decisions or develop strategic blueprints that will lead them to the scientific breakthroughs crucial to long-term solutions and economic success.

Recently, a study was conducted on academic research on the topic of “water resources” using Scopus data and SciVal Spotlight, a performance-measurement tool based on a detailed model of the current structure of science. This study was presented at the Government-University-Industry Research Roundtable in July 2010 in Washington. Here, we present some of the characterizations of the field.

The study clearly illustrates a marked increase in research output in this area over the past decade, reflecting rising global concerns (see Figure 1).

Figure 1 – Article output in water resources increased almost 30 percent between 2000 and 2009. For comparison, over the same timeframe, the average growth rate for academic research was just 3 percent while the keyword “nano-”, indicating another current hot topic, rose 20 percent.

Figure 1 – Article output in water resources increased almost 30 percent between 2000 and 2009. For comparison, over the same timeframe, the average growth rate for academic research was just 3 percent while the keyword “nano-”, indicating another current hot topic, rose 20 percent. Source: Scopus.

Deluge from the US and China

Publications originate from a wide range of countries, reflecting international interest. The US and China are leading the field (see Figure 2), with several other countries picking up pace. Research output in Iran, Mexico and Denmark is rising sharply. Iran, for instance, produced 96 papers on water resources in 2009, compared with just 12 papers between 1970 and 2000.

Figure 2 – Output and citations per paper, per country (2005–2008).

Figure 2 – Output and citations per paper, per country (2005–2008). Source: Scopus.

SciVal Spotlight also allows us to take a closer look at the research landscape at a country level. Taking China as a test case, we can see that it is especially strong in many applied scientific subject areas, including the computer sciences, chemistry and engineering (see Figure 3). However, they also have a significant cluster of strengths around biology and biotechnology. In fact, 28 of China’s 463 competencies (6.04 percent) are in water research, with the highest concentration in water treatment and waste water. This is perhaps not surprising given its local challenges with water pollution.

Figure 3 – The Scival Spotlight country map for China shows where its core competencies lie (2008 data).

Figure 3 – The Scival Spotlight country map for China shows where its core competencies lie (2008 data). Source: Scopus.

In contrast, the US has 81 competencies (of a total 1,635, 4.95 percent) in water research, with relative strengths in wastewater, water resources and freshwater biology. In the UK, 16 of its 361 competencies are related to water research (4.43 percent), with a distribution similar to that of the US.

Global focus increases impact

The type of research varies by country, too. China is highly focused on solutions to local challenges while research carried out in the US is more concerned with global issues.

As for impact, Sweden and Switzerland are leading the field, with the highest citations per paper (see Figure 2). Sweden has published four papers with more than 50 citations, totaling 217. Its top articles were published in Nature and Science. Switzerland has published three papers with more than 50 citations, totaling 161. The top paper was published in the Lancet.

If we look at the institutes that are particularly strong in the field of water resources (see Figure 4), some stand out. Tel Aviv produced less than 25 papers, but one of those received more than 150 citations, more than half of Tel Aviv’s total citations. The Chinese Academy of Sciences, at the other extreme, produced more than 250 papers with fewer than 2.6 citations per article, due to the local focus of their papers. In the webinar version of this study, institutional maps are shown for the Australian Commonwealth Scientific Research Organization, Princeton and USDA.

Figure 4 – While some institutes are producing few, highly cited papers, like Tel Aviv, others are publishing numerous studies on local issues, like the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), which attract fewer citations.

Figure 4 – While some institutes are producing few, highly cited papers, like Tel Aviv, others are publishing numerous studies on local issues, like the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), which attract fewer citations. Source: Scopus.

Multidisciplinary approach

It is also apparent that water research is becoming more multidisciplinary in nature (see Figure 5). Mathematicians, economists and computer scientists are increasingly contributing to research into solutions for our water challenges. This multidisciplinary approach to our most urgent environmental challenges is not limited to water resources. Research Trends has noted this trend in several past issues, such as alternative energy research and other environmental challenges.

Figure 5 – Annual growth rate of water resources output per subject area (2005–2008). Source: Scopus.

Figure 5 – Annual growth rate of water resources output per subject area (2005–2008).

This multidisciplinary approach is presenting bibliometricians with their own set of challenges. In particular, it is getting more difficult to fully comprehend a research area by simply looking at the output within journal categories, as many important papers cross the traditional subject classifications. Fortunately, technological solutions are helping us understand many emerging and multidisciplinary fields. Identifying hot spots in water research helps us know where it is moving and where we might want to offer incentives to drive it.

For all our most pressing challenges, research is needed more than ever. We desperately need solutions to alleviate the suffering that badly managed water resources cause millions around the world. Getting an accurate picture of where the best research is being carried out can only help governments better allocate another scarce resource – funding.

Useful links

SciVal webinar on water resources

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“Omics”: genomics’ offspring shed light on biodiversity

In just 40 years, genomics has grown so rapidly that it has already spawned several sub-fields, which are also growing. Research Trends shows how this remarkable output has deepened our appreciation of biodiversity.

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The genomics explosion

1976: First virus genome sequenced

1987: “Genomics” coined to describe this growing research field

1995: First genome of a living organism published (of the bacterium Haemophilus influenzae)

2000: First draft of the human genome published, swiftly followed by numerous other genomes

The United Nations has declared 2010 the International Year of Biodiversity. To many, “biodiversity” simply means the number and variety of species. But biodiversity actually refers to all life on Earth, from molecules all the way up to entire ecological communities.

Over the past 30 years, our understanding of biodiversity has evolved, informing and being informed by parallel developments in the study of systems within cells; that is, of genomes, protein pathways, and metabolites. These fields of study are often collectively referred to as “omics”.

From genomics to omics

Fuelled by technical and methodological advances since the 1970s, notable landmarks have been achieved in the study of the genome, or the complete set of genetic information that makes up an organism, over the last 40 years (see box). This has been matched by a significant and steady increase in the number of publications in this field (see Figure 1).

Figure 1 – Publications in the research field of genomes (later known as genomics) soared between 1960 and 2009.

Figure 1 – Publications in the research field of genomes (later known as genomics) soared between 1960 and 2009. Source: keyword search in Scopus.

The growth in genomics research, and its maturation as a scientific field, has led to the creation of a number of offshoot "omics" research fields, each of which is also experiencing a steady rate of growth (see Figure 2).

Figure 2 – Output in several sub-fields of genomic research has seen marked growth in just five years.

Figure 2 – Output in several sub-fields of genomic research has seen marked growth in just five years. Source: keyword search in Scopus.

These new fields are information intensive and build on the large quantities of data produced by genomics research. The first fields to enter strong growth phases on the back of genomics research were proteomics and transcriptomics. Both these fields are concerned with the direct products made from the recipes encoded in the genome: proteins (via mRNA) and RNA transcribed directly from the genomic DNA code. Proteomics and transcriptomics were first featured in the peer-reviewed literature circa 1997 and 1998 respectively.

Many proteins and RNA molecules shepherd processes within a cell: making new molecules, breaking them down and facilitating interactions. Intense study into these phenomena within genomics, proteomics and transcriptomics has, in turn, spawned three more research fields, stimulated by the wealth of research on which they can build (see Figure 2). Metabolomics is concerned with small molecules, glycomics with carbohydrate molecules, and interactomics with the interactions between large molecules.

And still growing…

The next stage, of course, is to extend studies to beyond the boundaries of a cell. “Secretomics” is the study of gene products secreted from the cell. In the last five years, research output has begun to grow rapidly in this area, with 99 research papers published in 2009. And, if the growth trajectories of transcriptomics (1,615 documents in 2009), proteonomics (4,828 documents in 2009) and genomics (21,229 documents in 2009) are good indicators, there is a lot of potential ahead for these new fields, and by extension, for our understanding of biodiversity in general.

Omics has already shown us that the full range of biodiversity on planet Earth extends from molecules up to communities so any knowledge about the variety of systems and networks within cells can only further enhance our insights into how best to preserve the biodiversity around us. Genomics, for instance, informs decisions in conservation biology.

But what is also very exciting about this remarkable growth in omics is that it reminds us how new fields of study are all based on research done in the past and that can open numerous avenues of research, furthering our understanding of the world around us.

Source for all publication records: Scopus

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Research and practice in waste management

Are those countries with excellent records in waste management research also the best practitioners of innovative waste management strategies? Research Trends shows how European countries compare on both research and application.

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What happens to the things we throw away? Where does our household garbage go? And what about pharmaceutical waste or old computers? Figure 1 shows the hierarchy of our available options for waste disposal, from outright prevention to disposal in a landfill.

Figure 1 – The waste disposal hierarchy.

Figure 1 – The waste disposal hierarchy.

Waste is becoming an increasingly urgent problem, and many countries have policies in place to manage their waste. For instance, the European Union has had a Directive regulating landfill use since 2002. This is helping support research into waste management solutions. But does a highly performing research sector occur more frequently in the regions where waste management is under control or where it is still a major challenge?

Research vs. reality

In 2006 Eurostat investigated how each European country was distributing its waste across the options in the hierarchy. The differences are notable (see Figure 2). Germany and the Netherlands, for instance, recycle over 68 and 64 percent, respectively, of urban waste and only send one and two percent, respectively, to landfills. At the other end of the spectrum are countries such as Poland and Lithuania, both of which send 91 percent of their waste to landfill.

Figure 2 – Waste disposal techniques per European country in 2006.

Figure 2 – Waste disposal techniques per European country in 2006. Source: Eurostat.

When we compare this to research output in “waste management and disposal”, we see countries like the UK, Spain, Poland and Italy are publishing a lot of papers and rely heavily on landfill. However, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden also make the top 20, and they only use between one and five percent landfill. Therefore, there does not seem to be any correlation between research output and landfill use.

If we look at citations per article (see Table 2), France and Greece are in the top 20, and they also have high percentages of landfill (35 and 87 percent, respectively). On the other hand, Belgium also appears in the top 20, but it only uses five percent landfill.

This indicates that actual waste disposal techniques do not seem to be driven by the research done in the same country. Basically, a country might be producing excellent research on waste management, but this does not necessarily mean they are actually putting that research into practice.

Policy matters

Professor Ernst Worrell, from the Department of Innovation and Environmental Sciences at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, is not surprised that there does not seem to be a link between a country’s most used waste disposal technique and its research: “Though research into waste management options and technologies is, for a large part, driven by policy, it is not surprising that there is not a direct link between the type of publications and expected (or assumed) policy options in a given country. Note that other factors (e.g. presence of technology suppliers) may also drive the research portfolio in a country.

“After the introduction of new waste management systems in countries like Germany and the Netherlands in the 1990s, it seems that policymakers assumed this issue was under control. The need for research declined, even though no proper monitoring on a scientific basis has been done in these countries.

However, Prof. Worrell cautions against complacency, as countries that still have waste mountains to tackle do seem to be researching this issue intensely: “The UK has produced a large volume of publications on waste management in the past 10 years. It had to address this issue because it was lagging behind other countries in Europe. In their wisdom, this development of new waste management practices has been accompanied by a research program that has delivered a wealth of research.”

So, according to Prof. Worrell, which are the countries to watch in the near future? “In my opinion, some of the Scandinavian countries (each with their own emphasis) are leading the way in finding sustainable ways to manage waste, with often a good mixed portfolio of policy instruments that include prevention, recycling, and final waste management options. In these countries you also see some strong research groups with a continuous output, as policymakers have remained interested in assessing the impacts and improving policies.

“My hope is that policymakers, not only in these selected countries, will continue to see the need to assess the effectiveness of policy and technology options to further optimize the use of materials and minimize waste generation. The future supply, use and disposal of materials will become an increasingly important challenge for our society, and hence in need of technology and policy development.”

Rank Country Percentage Cites per article
1 United States 13.13% 1.41
2 India 3.90% 3.54
3 United Kingdom 3.57% 1.04
4 China 3.21% 1.96
5 Canada 2.81% 1.53
6 Brazil 2.69% 1.12
7 Japan 2.27% 1.84
8 Spain 1.91% 1.91
9 Poland 1.81% 0.49
10 Taiwan 1.75% 1.59
11 Italy 1.59% 1.08
12 Germany 1.56% 1.60
13 Australia 1.52% 1.23
14 Korea, Republic of 1.49% 1.92
15 Sweden 1.47% 1.23
16 Netherlands 1.27% 1.45
17 Turkey 1.21% 2.52
18 France 1.21% 2.32
19 Mexico 0.77% 1.43
20 Denmark 0.74% 1.57

Table 1 – Top 20 most productive countries in research on waste management and disposal in 2006 and 2007.
Source: Scopus.

Rank Country Cites per article
1 India 3.54
2 Colombia 3.50
3 Malaysia 2.56
4 Nigeria 2.53
5 Turkey 2.52
6 Bangladesh 2.50
7 Thailand 2.36
8 France 2.32
9 Hong Kong 2.23
10 Uruguay 2.14
11 Jordan 2.07
12 Greece 2.07
13 Cuba 2.00
14 Belgium 1.98
15 China 1.96
16 Portugal 1.95
17 Korea, Republic of 1.92
18 Spain 1.91
19 Singapore 1.85
20 Japan 1.84

Table 2 – Highest cites in 2008 per article from 2006 and 2007, per country, for countries with more than five articles on “waste management and disposal” in 2006 and 2007.
Source: Scopus.

Further reading

Milton, J. and Brahic, C. (2010) “Track that trash”, New Scientist, Vol. 206, Issue 2756, pp. 44–45.

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Mapping 20 years of Global Ocean Ecosystem Research

Global Ocean Ecosystem Dynamics (GLOBEC) is a research program initiated in 1990. Its aim is: “To advance our understanding of the structure and functioning of the global ocean ecosystem, its major subsystems, and its response to physical forcing so that a capability can be developed to forecast the responses of the marine ecosystem to global […]

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Global Ocean Ecosystem Dynamics (GLOBEC) is a research program initiated in 1990. Its aim is: “To advance our understanding of the structure and functioning of the global ocean ecosystem, its major subsystems, and its response to physical forcing so that a capability can be developed to forecast the responses of the marine ecosystem to global change.” For GLOBEC this means focusing on shorter-term effects, such as over-fishing and the changing ways we use the seas, in addition to their overall efforts to investigate global change in the broadest sense.

To celebrate GLOBEC’s 20 years of research, a bibliometric study has been conducted to identify the most important topics among GLOBEC’s publications, as well as the most productive and highly cited authors and institutes. The best 35 articles of GLOBEC’s 2,900 peer-reviewed papers over the past two decades have been collected together in a Compendium to be published as a standalone publication, under the journal Progress in Oceanography banner.

What determined the “best”?

First, we constructed a keyword co-occurrence map (see Figure 1) based on the co-occurrences of terms in the titles and abstracts of 2,134 of GLOBEC’s publications. This map shows relations among 800 keywords. We can then see how often a term occurred by assessing the size of the font and the bubble. The closer keywords are to each other indicates how frequently they occurred together. This means we can see the most common areas of research, and how they relate to each other.

Maps like these can be visualized at an overall level (as shown in Figure 1), but it is also possible to zoom in on keywords and topics to see more detail.

Figure 1 – Co-occurrence key word map for GLOBEC publications (screenshot from the original interactive map).

Figure 1 – Co-occurrence key word map for GLOBEC publications (screenshot from the original interactive map). Credit: With special thanks to CWTS.

Analyzing the map

This keyword co-occurrence map helps us characterize the structure and functioning of oceanic ecosystems.

In the top right section, the “primary production” compartment is represented in yellow. This includes phytoplankton, bloom, carbon and algae, together with nutrients (nitrate, silicate) and organic matter fluxes. This group of keywords can be characterized as “Biochemical cycles and primary production”. As these phenomena are governed by the physical environment, they naturally neighbor the bottom right section in red, which represents physical conditions, such as current, wind and gyre, and characterized as “Ocean winds and currents”.

Moving anticlockwise to the top left corner of the map, we see the “secondary producers” identified in violet. In this area, GLOBEC concentrates on copepods and their lifecycle. Calanus finmarchicus, the most abundant species in the North Sea and the principal food source for herring, is a preeminent subject. This is obvious considering that GLOBEC’s key oceanographic sampling efforts were conducted in the North Atlantic, where Calanus finmarchicus is also abundant. This section can be classified as “Zooplankton growth and production”.

The transition to the lifecycle of secondary producers, characterized as “Larval fish growth and survival”, is depicted in mauve. This cloud merges into the green cloud representing “Ecosystem and fisheries management”.

Finally, the circle connects back to climate change (warming, decadal scale), thus closing the circle at physical environment studies into the red section, “Ocean winds and currents”.

Because of GLOBEC’s “whole ecosystem” approach and special emphasis on economically valuable fish species, certain keywords are found more towards the centre of the map. For instance, mesozooplankton (krill) and other planktonic components like euphasids are located more to the center, where community-level studies come together. Diversity studies, as well as some of the most widely sampled environments, also group towards the center of the map, indicating their value to all the areas of study.

Causing a splash

After identifying GLOBEC’s five key subjects using the keyword co-occurrence map, we analyzed citation patterns for each of these areas (see Figure 2).

Figure 2 – Citations per article (three-year rolling window) for each of the five subject areas identified in the co-concurrence map, as well as for GLOBEC as a whole. Time periods have been represented in four-year blocks, with both publications and citations to those publications occurring in the same time period.

Figure 2 – Citations per article (three-year rolling window) for each of the five subject areas identified in the co-concurrence map, as well as for GLOBEC as a whole. Time periods have been represented in four-year blocks, with both publications and citations to those publications occurring in the same time period. Source: Scopus.

From this analysis, we can see that articles on ecosystem and fisheries management are by far the most highly cited. However, there has been a marked decline in citations since the peak in 2004–2007. All other subjects show steady growth in citations except for zooplankton research, which has remained relatively stable.

Combining output and citations between 2006 and 2009 shows us that ecosystems and fisheries is GLOBEC’s most prolific and its most cited area of research (see Figure 3). This Figure also indicates that while zooplankton is definitely a prolific research field, it receives less citation attention than GLOBEC’s other areas of expertise.

Figure 3. Comparing output with citations, ecosystems and fisheries management is clearly GLOBEC’s most prolific and most cited subject area.

Figure 3. Comparing output with citations, ecosystems and fisheries management is clearly GLOBEC’s most prolific and most cited subject area.

A picture of success

These analyses confirm that GLOBEC has met its original mandate “to advance our understanding of the structure and functioning of the global ocean ecosystem, its major subsystems and its response to physical forcing.” The map shows that it has covered all its stated areas of research and citation analyses confirmed that it has produced numerous and important studies that inform our “capability […] to forecast the responses of the marine ecosystem to global change.” Such studies are invaluable in assessing ongoing research programs.

At the same time, bibliometric analysis can overturn assumptions. In the GLOBEC study, we discovered that certain keywords, such as “modeling” or “benthos”, were actually used less than we had expected.

Yet, perhaps the best outcome of such maps is that they help us clearly visualize an ambitious range of topics covered in a remarkable research program spanning 20 years.

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Managing our environment on three fronts

Biodiversity, oceanography and waste management all influence our environment. Research Trends asks Professors Michel Loreau and Edward Durbin, and Dr Hans van der Sloot for their opinions on the challenges and opportunities of managing our environment from three perspectives.

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The environment in which we live is impacted by everything that we put into and take out of it. And of course we do not exist in it alone; the other species both on land and in our seas have an important role to play. Research Trends interviewed three experts in the fields of biodiversity, waste management and oceanography to find out their points of view on environmental management.

Click on one of the interviews below to find out more.

Biodiversity and ecosystems: Professor Michel Loreau

Prof. Michel Loreau is Canada Research Chair in Theoretical Ecology at McGill University in Montreal. He has published 128 papers that have been collectively cited 7,079 times. His h-index is 33 – which means that 33 of his papers have been cited 33 times or more. His most cited paper, “Ecology: Biodiversity and ecosystem functioning: Current knowledge and future challenges”, published in Science in 2001, has received more than 850 citations. Sixteen of his papers have been cited 100 times or more, and only 11 remain uncited to date.

Recycling waste: Dr Hans van der Sloot

Dr Hans van der Sloot is Associate Editor of Waste Management. He recently retired from the Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands and now works as a private consultant. He has published 89 papers that have been collectively cited 1,131 times; his h-index is 16 – which means that 16 of his papers have been cited 16 times or more. His most cited paper, “An integrated framework for evaluating leaching in waste management and utilization of secondary materials”, published in Environmental Engineering Science in 2002, has received more than 90 citations. Six of his papers have been cited 50 times or more, and only two remain uncited to date.

Oceanic issues: Professor Edward Durbin

Edward Durbin is Professor of Oceanography working with Global Ocean Ecosystem Dynamics (GLOBEC). He has published 63 papers that have been collectively cited 1,357 times; his h-index is 17 – which means that 17 of his papers have been cited 17 times or more. His most cited paper, “Growth and development rates of the copepod Calanus finmarchicus reared in the laboratory”, published in Marine Ecology Progress Series in 2001, has received more than 134 citations. Seven of his papers have been cited 50 times or more, and only 21 remain uncited to date.

Source for bibliometric data: Scopus

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Did you know

The hamster that wrote a paper and other authorship tales

Andre Geim FRS is a physicist at the University of Manchester who is perhaps best known for his 2004 discovery of graphene using the “Scotch tape technique” (1). Geim is also an expert in mesoscopic physics and superconductivity, and his other notable achievements include the development of a biomimetic adhesive (know as “gecko tape” (2)), and research into diamagnetic levitation.

Geim’s sense of humor transpired in his 2001 paper (3) on the subject, as he granted co-authorship to his favorite hamster for contributions to the levitation experiment. According to Scopus, H.A.M.S. ter Tisha is affiliated with the High Field Magnet Laboratory at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands. Although H.A.M.S. ter Tisha has not published anything else so far, her “work” has been cited eight times to date.

This was not the first time that wittiness and scientific authorship came together: in 1948, Physical Cosmology published the Alpher-Bethe-Gamow, or αβγ, paper (4). This was created by PhD student Ralph Alpher and his advisor George Gamow, who humorously decided to add the name of his friend – eminent physicist Hans Bethe – to the authors’ list to create a pun on the Greek letters α, β, γ (alpha, beta, gamma).

References:
(1) Novoselov, K.S.; Geim, A.K.; Morozov, S.V.; Jiang, D.; Zhang, Y.; Dubonos, S.V.; Grigorieva, I.V.; Firsov, A.A. (2004) “Electric Field Effect in Atomically Thin Carbon Films”, Science, issue 306, pp. 666–669.
(2) Geim, A.K.; Dubonos, S.V.; Grigorieva, I.V.; Novoselov, K.S. (2003) “Microfabricated adhesive mimicking gecko foot-hair”, Nature Materials, issue 2(7), pp. 461–463.
(3) Geim, A.K; ter Tisha, H.A.M.S. (2001) Physica B, issues 294–295, pp. 736–739
(4) Alpher, R.A.; Bethe, H.; Gamow, G. (1948) “The Origin of Chemical Elements”, Physical Review, issue 73 (7), pp. 803–804.

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