Are you experiencing science overload?

This week I had a post up on the Canadian Science Publishing blog discussing the current boom in scientific publishing (2.5 million papers published per year!), and how this firehose of scientific information won’t stop flowing any time soon.

“Do you feel overwhelmed by the number of research papers in your field? Do you wonder if you’re missing key ideas that could be critical for your research program? Does it feel like the deluge is only getting worse?
You’re not imagining things. According to research from the University of Ottawa, in 2009 we passed the 50 million mark in terms of the total number of science papers published since 1665, and approximately 2.5 million new scientific papers are published each year.”

I outlined two key drawbacks of this high rate of publication: that we’ll neglect the older literature, and that we’ll lose our ability to explore laterally, beyond the confines of our particular discipline. Some of my ideas to combat these problems included: making sure to go back to original papers rather than merely citing papers that cite older papers, getting recommendations from more established colleagues in your field on which older papers are worth a read, and making time to explore laterally by perusing the tables of contents of journals in related fields.
I received some great feedback on the post from Dezene Huber and Patrick Donahue on Twitter. They suggested that lateral exploration can also involve a social media stream that covers different science topics, following science blogs, and setting up an RSS feed that incorporates papers/blogs/etc. in your own discipline and laterally related ones.
Colleagues like Andrea Kirkwood and Linda Campbell also noted that the publication boom doesn’t just affect journal readers. They explained how it’s getting harder for scientists to publish in standard journals because of submission deluge: many papers are submitted, but only a small percentage can be published. They also noted that the publication boom means more work for journal reviewers. Linda alone said that she sometimes gets 10 requests to review per month – a volunteer workload that’s completely unsustainable. Several other researchers chimed in that this is a major problem, while Mike Spencer pointed me in the direction of this post on the EGU blog network. It outlines one geoscientist’s idea of ‘sustainable’ publishing: two good papers published per year. The question is whether that’s enough to be a ‘successful’ scientist – which the same post suggest requires publication of five papers per year.
You can read my original post here. Many things to keep in mind when reading it, and thanks to all who contributed to the discussion.

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