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Avoiding extra sifts and longer shifts

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Adrian Mulligan

Researchers now spend almost as much time searching for articles as actually reading them, writes Adrian Mulligan

The impact of information proliferation and questions over quality on researcher workloads has long been a topic of conversation among those pursuing a career in research.

Now the full implications are clear in one of the biggest surveys of the research community of trust in research. And the findings strengthen our determination to work with the community to develop solutions that make analysis easier.

Together with Sense about Science, we spoke to more than 3,000 researchers around the world in May, and earlier in March to another 1,500. But what did we learn?

Researchers now spend almost as much time searching for articles as actually reading them. On average, researchers spend just over four hours searching for research articles a week and more than five hours reading them.

More worrying, the picture is worsening over time. Between 2011 and 2019, researchers have been reading 10 per cent fewer articles, but are spending 11 per cent more time finding articles.

Reliability of research output – in a world where it’s harder than ever to know what to believe – is a contributory factor.

While 62 per cent of researchers regard all or a majority of the research outputs they see as reliable, over a third (37 per cent) said they only viewed half or some of them as reliable. And one per cent viewed none as reliable.

What we see in response is that researchers are developing coping mechanisms to ensure the reliability of the research they use, which is adding to workloads.

Over half (57 per cent) check supplementary data carefully, over half (52 per cent) seek corroboration from other trusted sources and over a third (37 per cent) only read and access from researchers they know.

It would be tragic if this lower level of confidence that some researchers have in the information they are using undermined trust in science. But this is what some in the academic community fear.

Over a third (41 per cent) of those surveyed said increased low quality research was a large problem in terms of public confidence in science, with a quarter (28 per cent) citing the volume of information available to the public as a big issue.

We don’t think it’s fair that researchers should have to work harder than they have had to previously to verify and validate the information that they build their research on. For many of the hard working health professionals, researchers and scientists we partner with, it’s tough enough to get a break, let alone a breakthrough.

The role of information analytics companies such as Elsevier is to help researchers better navigate the complexity they face.

It starts with listening and sharing what we hear back with the community to encourage discussion. Only by understanding what will most help researchers can we ensure that we continue to develop the functionality and rigour they need.

At Elsevier, we aim to focus on our customer’s ambitions and challenges. When appropriate we apply the right technologies. The answer to any problem is only as good as the knowledge behind the solutions. Customers have long trusted Elsevier because of the deliberate care we place in verifying and managing knowledge. Increasingly, our customers are seeking better ways to stay in control of their work, enable faster ways of working, manage complexity and free up time to focus on their goals. Elsevier is committed to bringing the same rigour we’ve applied to content, to a new generation of Elsevier platforms.

We’re proud to contribute to the dialog and debate about how to make it easier for researchers to get the trusted information they need in a world where it’s harder than ever to know what to believe. We see ourselves in a supporting role, working jointly with researchers, institutions, funders, librarians, and publishers as part of a community endeavour. Working together, we can ensure the data revolution enriches science.

Adrian Mulligan is research director for customer insights at Elsevier

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