Washington, July 18 : The Internet may be the most vital tool for researchers worldwide, what with quick searches opening detailed studies just with a click of mouse. But there's also a flipside to the online availability of large number of journals- researchers tend to cite only fewer and newer papers.
James Evans, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Chicago, who focuses on the nature of scholarly research found that scholars are actually citing fewer papers in their own work, and the papers they do cite tend to be more recent publications.
It was found that scholars also seemed to concentrate their citations more on specific journals and articles and it is feared that this trend may be limiting the creation of new ideas and theories.
After reviewing the research on the Internet and science, Evans discovered that most of it focused on much faster and broader the Internet allows scholars to search for information, but not how the medium itself was impacting their work.
"That's where this idea came from. I wanted to know how electronic provision changed science, not how much better it made it," he said.
He analyzed a database of over 34 million articles and compared their online availability from 1998 to 2005 to the number of times they were cited from1945 to 2005.
"More is available, but less is sampled, and what is sampled is more recent and located in the most prominent journals," said Evans.
His research also discovered that this trend was not evenly distributed across academic disciplines-scientists and scholars in the life sciences showed the greatest propensity for referencing fewer articles, but the trend is less noticeable in business and legal scholarship. Social scientists and scholars in the humanities are more likely to cite newer works than other disciplines.
According to the Evans, there's a difference in the literature review when research is conducted online than when it is carried out in a bricks-and-mortar library.
Studies into how research is conducted show that people browse and peruse material in a library, but they tend to search for articles online. Online searches tend to organize results by date and relevance, which leads allows scholars and scientists to pick recent research from the most high profile journals.
Some search tools like Google factor the frequency with which other users select an item during similar searchers to determine relevance. Online, researchers are also more likely to follow hyper-linked references and links to similar work within an online archive. Because of this, as more scholars choose to read and reference a given article, future researchers more quickly follow.
Though Evans said that this phenomenon doesn't spell the end of the literature review, he does believe that it makes scholars and scientists more likely to come to a consensus and establish a conventional wisdom on a given topic faster.
"Online access facilitates a convergence on what science is picked up and built upon in subsequent research," he said.
And he believed that the danger in this is that if new productive ideas and theories aren't picked up quickly by the research community, they may fade before their useful impact is evaluated.
"It's like new movies. If movies don't get watched the first weekend, they're dropped silently. With science and scholarship increasing online, findings and ideas that don't receive attention very soon will be forgotten more quickly than ever before," said Evans.
The study is published in the current issue of the journal Science.