Growth in data and questions on quality ‘increasing researcher workload’

An abundance of data and a lack of confidence in the multitude of scientific research is adding to researcher workload and potentially impacting public confidence in science.

According to a survey of the global community’s trust in research, scientists spend almost as much time searching for articles as they do actually reading them.

The Trust in Research report by Elsevier, in partnership with the charity Sense About Science, polled 3,133 researchers in May, and a separate earlier study captured 1,500 responses in March.

It found that on average, scientists spend just over four hours hunting for research articles a week and more than five hours reading them.

The picture is worsening over time, the survey indicates.

Between 2011 and 2019 researchers read 10% fewer articles, but spent 11% more time finding articles.

Almost two thirds (62%) of researchers regard all or a majority of the research outputs they see as trustworthy.

However, more than a third (37%) said they only viewed half or some of them as trustworthy.

And 1% viewed none of the outputs they see as trustworthy.

According to the data, scientists are developing new coping mechanisms to ensure the reliability of research they use – adding to their workload.

These include carefully checking supplementary data (57%), and seeking corroboration from other trusted sources (52%).

More than a third (37%) of those questioned said they only read and access from researchers they know.

This lack of trust is also likely to be impacting public confidence in science, according to researchers.

Increased low quality research was a large problem in terms of public confidence, 41% of those surveyed said.

More than a quarter (28%) cited the volume of information available to the public as a big issue.

The Trust in Research report is the latest in a series of studies from information and analytics firm Elsevier designed to better understand the needs of the research community.

Adrian Mulligan, research director for customer insights at Elsevier, told the PA news agency: “What we are seeing is that data proliferation is increasing the workload.

“Researchers are spending almost as much time trying to find the content that is reliable, as they are reading that content.

“On the one hand you have researchers that are looking for the content and just spending a little bit more time trying to find that content.

“That means that there are inefficiencies in the system – when they could be pursuing their goals, they are spending their time looking for that research.

“Researchers are better equipped – the public find it more difficult to manage.

“For the public at large, it is about looking at peer review, understanding whether the material they are looking at is a reliable journal.”

Asked what could be contributing to the data proliferation, he said it could it could be more research that hasn’t been peer-reviewed, published research that is not novel or ground-breaking, and a lot more coming from China.

Dr Lukasz Porwol, a postdoctoral researcher at the National University of Ireland Galway, said: “It is increasingly more difficult to find good papers, trusted papers, and also papers of interest.

“We are losing time that we could spend on actual research.

“Increasingly there is more and more managerial work rather than research work. That is definitely an obstacle for researchers who would rather focus on their work.”

Dr Porwol said the issue could impact recruitment into the field.

He told PA: “I guess it might pull people away, but more of the young researchers are not aware of it. But they get to know as they go through their Masters and PhDs.

“They do not anticipate it and require help more and more from researchers to work their way through those vast sources of information.

“If they are made aware they might be pulled away, and they might consider a career in the industry directly, or something else.”

Dr Porwol said one solution could be researchers dedicated to sifting through the material, and dealing with the administrative tasks.

Tracey Brown, the director of Sense About Science, said: “What I can say now is that, amid increasing volume of research papers and new kinds of publishing, researchers are really alert to the need to maintain and improve quality.

“This is also increasingly important for others navigating the findings of research, including affected communities, policy makers and journalists.”

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