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Publication Growth in Biological Sub-Fields: Patterns, Predictability and Sustainability

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  • Marco Pautasso

    ()
    (Centre for Functional and Evolutionary Ecology (CEFE), CNRS, 34293 Montpellier, France
    Centre for Biodiversity Synthesis and Analysis (CESAB), FRB, 13857 Aix-en-Provence, France)

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    Abstract

    Biologists are producing ever-increasing quantities of papers. The question arises of whether current rates of increase in scientific outputs are sustainable in the long term. I studied this issue using publication data from the Web of Science (1991–2010) for 18 biological sub-fields. In the majority of cases, an exponential regression explains more variation than a linear one in the number of papers published each year as a function of publication year. Exponential growth in publication numbers is clearly not sustainable. About 75% of the variation in publication growth among biological sub-fields over the two studied decades can be predicted by publication data from the first six years. Currently trendy fields such as structural biology, neuroscience and biomaterials cannot be expected to carry on growing at the current pace, because in a few decades they would produce more papers than the whole of biology combined. Synthetic and systems biology are problematic from the point of view of knowledge dissemination, because in these fields more than 80% of existing papers have been published over the last five years. The evidence presented here casts a shadow on how sustainable the recent increase in scientific publications can be in the long term.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Article provided by MDPI, Open Access Journal in its journal Sustainability.

    Volume (Year): 4 (2012)
    Issue (Month): 12 (November)
    Pages: 3234-3247

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    Handle: RePEc:gam:jsusta:v:4:y:2012:i:12:p:3234-3247:d:21726

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    Related research

    Keywords: biological sciences; file-drawer problem; information overload; meta-knowledge; peak in scientific output; peer review; publication explosion; publish or perish; scientometrics; sustainable development;

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    1. Susan Washburn Taylor & Blakely Fox Fender & Kimberly Gladden Burke, 2006. "Unraveling the Academic Productivity of Economists: The Opportunity Costs of Teaching and Service," Southern Economic Journal, Southern Economic Association, Southern Economic Association, vol. 72(4), pages 846–859, April.
    2. Ehrlich, Paul R. & Wolff, Gary & Daily, Gretchen C. & Hughes, Jennifer B. & Daily, Scott & Dalton, Michael & Goulder, Lawrence, 1999. "Knowledge and the environment," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 30(2), pages 267-284, August.
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