There are too many studies out there, rendering studies less effective – study

11 Mar 2015

A new study investigating the damage that too many studies can do to the research world has found that we’ve far too many studies knocking around.

The truly ironic results are found in Attention decay in science, a report undertaken by researchers in both the US and Finland.

The ‘decay’ investigated is essentially how quickly a piece of research is discarded – this is measured by establishing the initial publication, the peak in its popularity and, ultimately, its disappearance from citations in subsequent publications.

“Interestingly the decay is getting faster and faster, indicating that scholars ‘forget’ more easily papers now than in the past,” reads the paper.

“We found that this has to do with the exponential growth in the number of publications, which inevitably accelerates the turnover of papers, due to the finite capacity of scholars to keep track of the scientific literature.”

Society is changing

Regardless of the humorous reality of such a piece of research, it is worth considering just how our attention spans have changed since the internet age began. Why should we expect the world’s researchers to be any different?

Last month the Bank of England’s chief economist, Andy Haldane, spoke of the fear that the modern social media age is curtailing our attention spans, highlighting Twitter as the best example of this, but explaining it as a broader issue, not to do with just one piece of software.

“We are clearly in the midst of an information revolution, with close to 99pc of the entire stock of information ever created having been generated this century. This has had real benefits. But it may also have had cognitive costs. One of those potential costs is shorter attention spans,” he said.

“Some societal trends are consistent with that. The tenure of jobs and relationships is declining […] The rising incidence of attention deficit disorders, and the rising prominence of Twitter, may be further evidence of shortening attention spans.”

Now what was I doing…

Confused academic, via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic