Field of Science

More things you don't have time to read

PLoS One has published over 5,000 papers. Is that a sign of success or failure?

I've worried before on this blog about the exploding number of science publications. Publications represent completed research, which is progress, and is good. But the purpose of writing a paper is not for it to appear in print, the purpose is for people to read it. The more papers are published, it stands to reason, the fewer people read each one. Thus, there is some argument for publishing fewer, higher quality papers. I have heard that the average publication gets fewer than 1 citation, meaning many papers are never cited and thus presumably were not found to be relevant to anybody's research program.

It is in this context that I read the following excited announcement from PLoS ONE, a relatively new open-access journal:
nearly 30,000 of your peers have published over 5,000 papers with us since our launch just over two years ago.
That's a lot of papers. Granted, I admit to being part of the problem. Though I do now have a citation.


محمد إدريس Mohamed Idris said...

Ibn Khaldun mentioned in his Muqaddima that “the great number of scholarly works (available) is an obstacle on the path to attaining scholarship”


He said that around 600 years ago. It seems that we do not read history.

Perhaps such a huge amount of scientific publications is the result of the dominance of English as the language of science. Everyone is publishing in English. Many universities in non-English-speaking countries offer financial incentives to their professors to publish in English; most of the time more than any incentive offered for publishing in the local language. Could be that the reason? Or at least one of the reasons?

coglanglab said...

Hi Mohamed,

Why would the drive to publish in English increase the number of papers published? The more papers in English, certainly, but presumably if people weren't publishing in English, they'd still publish.

Having everything in one language I think helps. It would be much worse if you also had to learn a dozen or so languages just to stay current.

محمد إدريس Mohamed Idris said...

Hi coglanglab,

If people were not publishing in English, they would still publish, but in their native languages. A scientist then won’t be able to review so many studies to write a state-of-the-art article. He/she would then focus on a smaller number of studies, because obviously he/she will not be a linguistic genius who speaks a dozen languages. Good science does not have to be international.

Having everything in one language may help, in the short term. But in the long run it’s likely that it may lead homogenization and the stifling of science.

Another reason for the problem you have raised in your entry may be the publish-or-perish culture. What do you think?