60-Second Science

Fewer Studies Cited in Internet Age

A study of millions of journal articles finds that the availability of info online has paradoxically led to fewer studies being cited. Christopher Intagliata reports

[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]


Not too long ago, scientists had to hoof it to the library to review the literature. And they had to flip through a card catalog to find that dusty old volume with the article they wanted. Not so today—the internet’s made things a lot easier. But maybe it’s a bit too easy. That’s what one sociologist writes in the latest issue of Science.

He analyzed a database of 34 million scholarly articles and their citations, spanning six decades of research. The conclusion? He says articles from the online age actually cite fewer studies, from a shrinking pool of journals. And the same popular studies are mentioned over and over. It’s a bit counterintuitive, considering the internet’s made more articles available than ever before.

So what’s going on? First, internet searches are really precise. Scientists might miss tangential stuff they would have encountered browsing through a print journal. And the author says the internet leads scientists to the most popular, talked-about research—which could overshadow the lone dissenter. But perhaps the joy that scientists find in arguing with each other can be counted on to keep the enterprise from turning into an echo chamber.

—Christopher Intagliata

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