Sustainability 2012, 4(12), 3234-3247; doi:10.3390/su4123234

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

Received: 12 June 2012; in revised form: 5 November 2012 / Accepted: 19 November 2012 / Published: 23 November 2012
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
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.
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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MDPI and ACS Style

Pautasso, M. Publication Growth in Biological Sub-Fields: Patterns, Predictability and Sustainability. Sustainability 2012, 4, 3234-3247.

AMA Style

Pautasso M. Publication Growth in Biological Sub-Fields: Patterns, Predictability and Sustainability. Sustainability. 2012; 4(12):3234-3247.

Chicago/Turabian Style

Pautasso, Marco. 2012. "Publication Growth in Biological Sub-Fields: Patterns, Predictability and Sustainability." Sustainability 4, no. 12: 3234-3247.

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