Growth in data and questions on quality are increasing researcher workload, finds new study from Elsevier and Sense about Science


Amsterdam, August 21, 2019

Data proliferation and a lack of confidence in the multitude of research outputs is adding to researcher workload and is likely to impact public confidence in science, according to a survey of the global research community on trust in research – one of the largest surveys known to date.

The Trust in Research report by Elsevier, a global information analytics business specializing in science and health, in partnership with Sense about Science, surveyed over 3,000 researchers in May and a separate earlier study in March 2019 captured 1,500 responses.

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. The picture is worsening over time: between 2011 and 2019, researchers read 10 percent fewer articles, but spent 11 percent more time finding articles.

While 62 percent of researchers regard all or a majority of the research outputs they see as trustworthy, over a third (37 percent) said they only viewed half or some of them as trustworthy. And 1 percent viewed none of the outputs they see as trustworthy. In response, researchers are developing new coping mechanisms to ensure the reliability of the research they use, which is adding to workloads:

  • Nearly three-fifths (57 percent) admit to checking supplementary data carefully.
  • Just over half (52 percent) seek corroboration from other trusted sources.
  • Over a third (37 percent) only read and access from researchers they know.

This lack of trust is also likely to impact public confidence in science, according to researchers. Over a third (41 percent) of those surveyed said the increased visibility of low-quality research was a large problem in terms of public confidence, with more than a quarter (28 percent) citing 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 Elsevier designed to better understand the needs of the research community now, and in the future, and start a debate about how information analytics companies can best respond.

“Researchers are having to work harder than ever to verify the information that they build their research on,” explains Adrian Mulligan, Research Director for Customer Insights, Elsevier. “While most research output is trusted, it is concerning that a majority of researchers say they cannot rely on all the information they receive. For many hard-working health professionals, researchers and scientists, it’s tough for them to get a break, let alone a breakthrough.

“That’s why we are committed to helping researchers better navigate the complexity they face. It starts with listening to the community and sharing what we hear to encourage discussion. Then, after understanding what will help researchers the most, we will be able to improve existing solutions and develop new ones they want (and need) to better control their work, enable faster ways of working, and manage complexity with the ultimate aim of freeing up time to focus on their goals.”

Tracey Brown, Director, Sense about Science said: “Trustworthiness is something that we have asked researchers about this summer, when we revisited the 2009 peer review survey a ‘decade on’ to look at how issues of quality and reliability are changing. We will be sharing and consulting more on those opinions ahead of their publication during Peer Review Week in September.

“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.”

Researchers are invited to find out more and access resources to help with data proliferation at: https://www.elsevier.com/connect/trust-in-research

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Notes to editors

  1. Workload findings come from the Elsevier Search and Discovery survey March 2019, sample 1,450. The quality and confidence findings come from the joint Elsevier and Sense about Science Quality and Research Evidence survey, May 2019, sample 3,133.
  2. Elsevier’s Research Futures report in conjunction with Ipsos MORI from February 2019 can be found here: https://www.elsevier.com/connect/elsevier-research-futures-report

About Elsevier
Elsevier is a global information analytics business that helps scientists and clinicians to find new answers, reshape human knowledge, and tackle the most urgent human crises. For 140 years, we have partnered with the research world to curate and verify scientific knowledge. Today, we’re committed to bringing that rigor to a new generation of platforms. Elsevier provides digital solutions and tools in the areas of strategic research management, R&D performance, clinical decision support, and professional education; including ScienceDirect, Scopus, SciVal, ClinicalKey and Sherpath. Elsevier publishes over 2,500 digitized journals, including The Lancet and Cell, 39,000 e-book titles and many iconic reference works, including Gray's Anatomy. Elsevier is part of RELX, a global provider of information-based analytics and decision tools for professional and business customers. www.elsevier.com

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Sacha Boucherie, Global Communications
Elsevier
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