A recent study, described here on the Nature News Blog, suggests that the number of scientific papers doubles every 9 years. This may not be surprising to researchers struggling to keep up with new developments in their field. But aside from the stress of insurmountable reading lists, surely this accelerating accumulation of scientific outputs this is a good thing?
Maybe not. More papers does not necessarily mean more knowledge. As suggested in the blog, in an environment where we must publish or perish, there may be increasing pressure to put out new papers with limited new material, or to split up results into more than one article.
But could this pressure also have a negative effect? Pressure to write lots of easy papers rather than one important paper. Pressure to publish in journals with no time to think about what the findings mean in the real world. Maybe we all need a bit less pressure and a bit more time to think "What's really the point of this paper?"
Does this proliferation of papers represent real growth of knowledge? As far back as 1965, Price noted a now familiar observation: “I am tempted to conclude that a very large fraction of the alleged 35,000 journals now current must be reckoned as merely a distant background noise, and as very far from central or strategic in any of the knitted strips from which the cloth of science is woven”. Today’s “salami slicing”, in which scientists may pursue additional publications for career advancement, only adds to this effect, says van Raan.