Researchers Read Fewer Papers

A new survey shows that scientists are perusing the literature less now than they have annually for 35 years.

By | February 5, 2014

WIKIMEDIA, TULANE UNIVERSITY PUBLIC RELATIONSIn 2012, the average researcher read only 22 papers per month, or about 264 per year, according to the results of a newly published survey led by investigators from the University of Tennessee. The latest findings represent the first drop in the number of papers read since the survey was first conducted in 1977. The last time the survey was conducted, in 2005, researchers reported reading an average of 27 papers per month. The survey results, which will be published in Learned Publishing, also revealed that academics—more than 800 science and social science faculty responded—read more than half of the papers they consume on an electronic screen, a marked change from 2005 when respondents reported viewing only one-fifth of the papers they read on a screen.

“People have probably hit the limit of the time they have available to read articles,” University of Tennessee information scientist and study leader Carol Tenopir told Nature News.

Survey respondents also indicated that they spent slightly more than 30 minutes reading each article, the shortest average time reported in the 35-year history of the survey.

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Avatar of: Carol T.

Carol T.

Posts: 1

February 6, 2014

UPDATE from new tests on the data: The decades long trend of scientists and social scientists reading more in less time per reading appears to be leveling off.  Because the range of reported amounts of reading is so wide, we looked at median amounts of reading as well as mean. Academics report a wide variance in their amount of reading, but looking at the median amounts of reading, the means, and the confidence intervals, shows that scientists and social scientists now read about the same number of articles per year or slightly less. The confidence intervals show no significant difference between reported amounts of reading by scientists and social scientists between 2005 and 2012.  The reported time spent per reading has also leveled off, after a decades long trend of decreasing. Academics still spend many hours each year reading scholarly articles, but perhaps their upper capacity has been reached. In the past, the time saved in locating and obtaining articles provided more time to actually read them, by 2012 this may have reached its limits of time saving.

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