There are too many scientific studies, says scientific study

Technically Incorrect: Researchers suggest there are so many scientific papers that their contents are being rapidly forgotten.

Chris Matyszczyk
2 min read

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.

Are there too many research papers to digest? PoisonousAvacado/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Scientists are being overwhelmed by too much science.

A new scientific study concludes that there are too many scientific studies. Written by researchers in Finland and California, it is entitled "Attention Decay In Science" (pdf).

The paper outlines some very simple and difficult realities. For example, it notes that scientists simply can't keep track of all the studies in their field. And it concludes that the citation rate of papers is rapidly declining over time.

"Nowadays papers are forgotten more quickly," says the study. The ultimate result for these researchers is that the "attention of scholars depends on the number of published items, not on real time."

The problem, the paper says, is remarkably modern and so very Facebook: "Attention, measured by the number and lifetime of citations, is the main currency of the scientific community, and along with other forms of recognition forms the basis for promotions and the reputation of scientists."

Yes, scientists appear to be publishing more and more. They are identical to we, mere paeans, who are desperately trying to offer interesting Facebook updates to make our alleged friends believe we are interesting people.

These researchers looked at "all publications (articles and reviews) written in English till the end of 2010 included in the database of the Thomson Reuters (TR) Web of Science. For each publication we extracted its year of publication, the subject category of the journal in which it is published and the corresponding citations to that publication."

An interesting word was used in this research to describe the more rapid disappearance of studies: decay. It's as if there is an organic mass of scientific work that rots away as more and more scientific work grows.

Just as with Facebook, YouTube or any other means of publication, how can you make this organic process stop? If publication has become too easy, there will be more and more of it.

Scientists crave recognition by publication, because that is the means by which they can advance. Ergo, there will be more papers creating a likely indigestion of information.

That indigestion will lead to, as paper says, rapid amnesia.

Place that likelihood into a world in which attention spans are the length of your average Vine and you face a difficult perspective for distinguishing research that might be breakthrough from research that might, say, make for a fine YouTube video.

Mind you, it was scientists who created our caring, sharing, digital world. Let's see if they can get us beyond it.

I think this needs more research.

(Via CBS Sacramento)