Information Overload

Image: Erica Johnson A healthy volunteer died in a Johns Hopkins asthma study because the researcher missed information about an inhalant's potential dangers. A vendor to a large pharmaceutical company says that the firm wasted almost two years trying to isolate a compound, not realizing that fellow colleagues had already obtained a patent for it. University of Minnesota researchers, as many others do, discovered after three years of research that results they were writing up had already been

Mignon Fogarty
Aug 18, 2002
Image: Erica Johnson

A healthy volunteer died in a Johns Hopkins asthma study because the researcher missed information about an inhalant's potential dangers. A vendor to a large pharmaceutical company says that the firm wasted almost two years trying to isolate a compound, not realizing that fellow colleagues had already obtained a patent for it. University of Minnesota researchers, as many others do, discovered after three years of research that results they were writing up had already been published.

The common denominator: the difficulty, if not impossibility, of keeping pace with the overwhelming amount of scientific literature and mountains of new data released daily. Throw in more discoveries, more funding, more specialists, and you have more data, more print journals, more E-journals, more room to miss something, more room for mistakes. PubMed, the major literature database for biomedical researchers, adds about 40,000 new entries each month; the complete database (which...

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