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Diminishing Returns?: U.s. Science Productivity Continues to Drop

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The machinery of U.S. scientific publishing: 29 percent less efficient than in 1990.


Science in the 1990s and into the early 21st century continued to advance the frontiers of knowledge—but less efficiently than it did earlier in the 20th century, according to a new study commissioned by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The report examines scientific publication trends in the top 200 U.S. academic research and development institutions from 1988 to 2001. Whereas funding and other research inputs rose dramatically, the yield of published research papers fell. Quantifying this decline [graph], the report concludes: "It can be calculated that the same resources that produced 100 publications in 2001 would have produced 129 publications in 1990."

The report, "U.S. Academic Scientific Publishing," published November 19, follows a July 2007 NSF study which found that the absolute number of science and engineering (S&E) articles published by U.S.-based authors in the world's major peer-reviewed journals plateaued in the early 1990s even as funding and personnel increased. In response, a news analysis, "U.S. Output Flattens, and NSF Wonders Why,"  published in Science later in 2007 examined various hypotheses but failed to resolve the mystery.

From Scientific American
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