Once upon a time, scientists read science papers that were printed on actual paper. Now they find what they’re looking for the same way the rest of us do: They Google it. But according to a recent study,
Internet efficiency carries a hidden cost: It has made scientists more narrow-minded than they used to be.
A University of Chicago sociologist named James Evans analyzed more than 34 million journal articles and found that the number of citations in science papers has declined in the past ten years. More worrisome still, the remaining citations have become far less diverse, with scientists citing the same, popular papers over and over again. The immediate result is a feedback loop: The frequency of citations has made more popular papers easier to find online, which increases their popularity further — and so on. The end result, according to Evans, is an “acceleration of consensus” — in other words, as the Web grows more powerful, the range of scientific discourse shrinks.
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