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Researchers worried for public confidence in science

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

Data proliferation and a lack of confidence in the multitude of research outputs is adding to researcher workload and likely to be impacting public confidence in science, according to one of the biggest surveys of the global research community on trust in research.

The Trust in Research report by Elsevier, in partnership with Sense about Science, surveyed over 3,000 researchers in May and a separate earlier study captured 1,500 responses in March.

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 5 hours reading them. The picture is worsening over time – between 2011 and 2019, researchers are reading 10% fewer articles, but are spending 11% more time finding articles.

While 62% of researchers regard all or a majority of the research outputs they see as trustworthy, over 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. 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%) admit to checking supplementary data carefully
  • Just over half (52%) seek corroboration from other trusted sources
  • Over a third (37%) 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. Over a third (41%) of those surveyed said increased low quality research was a large problem in terms of public confidence, with more than a quarter (28%) 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.

Adrian Mulligan, Research Director for Customer Insights comments:

“Researchers are having to work harder than ever to verify the information that they build their research on. 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 most help researchers, 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, 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 peer review survey 2009 in a ‘decade on’ look at how issues of quality and reliability are changing. We will be sharing and consulting more on those opinions ahead of their publication in 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.”

Workload findings come from the Elsevier Search and Discovery survey March 2019, sample 1,450, and quality and confidence findings come from the joint Elsevier and Sense about Science Quality and Research Evidence survey, May 2019, sample 3,133.

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