Fear of Missing Out Vs. Information Overload – Researcher Challenges In a Digital and Open Research Era

October 30, 2019 Susanne Gaertner

Sun, ocean, turtle swimmingNowadays, it is the easiest and at the same time one of the hardest things to find high quality, reliable research. With a few clicks, keyword searches deliver thousands of “matching” results. But which deserves a closer look and will help the researcher to advance their own work? Ideally, information is quickly and freely accessible, and abstracts are well written to offer the best overview. But in reality launching searches for learning, problem solving or answering specific questions is one of the biggest pain points in a researcher’s daily life, as reviewing and selecting articles can be heavily time consuming and frustrating. Often, selected content turns out to be irrelevant, and in the worst case is hidden behind a paywall, with the researcher forced to make a decision on whether to purchase.

Drowning in a New Wave of Information

Information overload is a constant challenge many researchers face today, as the number of scientific publications increase exponentially. According to the STM Report 2018 there were about 33,100 active scholarly peer-reviewed English-language journals in 2018, collectively publishing some three million articles a year. This growth is driven by developing countries, who are increasingly investing in technology and science. The US National Science Foundation (NFS) reports that since 2018, China has overtaken the US and European Countries in volume of publication output and countries such as India and Japan follow close behind. Both researchers and institutional libraries don’t have adequate support to effectively handle this influx of content.  

Navigating Article FOMO

And the fear of missing out is real. Researchers find it hard to stop exploring content as they worry about missing important articles. This may be due to poor search skills or content that is not easily discoverable.  Luckily, open access publications are on the rise and heavily promoted through initiatives such as Plan S or Projekt DEAL. Freely accessible content can make the search process just a little bit easier as researchers don’t have to worry about potentially purchasing irrelevant content and wasting valuable money. Altmetrics, Impact Factors and other benchmarks can also help researchers identify reliable and high-quality content at a time when predatory publishing is becoming increasingly prevalent..

Tools to Stem the Tide

Researchers should also embrace new technologies to improve their search results. Without automation, filters, algorithms or recommendation systems, researchers can easily get lost in the vast amount of output. Automated processes can index and summarize published content, and artificial intelligence opens up the possibility of comparing content so that the reader can decide which content best suits their needs.

Research data can be even more difficult to find and access. There are few digital networking platforms, and crucial research findings often sit in data silos. In addition,  some researchers have insufficient data management skills, leading them to keep results and methodologies inaccessible to others.  Moreover, many researchers feel pressure to not publish negative results.

Initiatives such as Generation R from the Open Science Leibniz Research Alliance actively approaches new ways of creating an open scholarly system in the digital age.  Researchers can now use this online platform to explore and share their knowledge about new digital tools and to look for conceptual and practical solutions, which can be used and adapted by the wider community.

Openness, accessibility, and transparency of research and data will be leading the future of research communication. Researchers, publishers, intermediaries, funders, institutions, corporates and libraries alike need to investigate and embrace new technologies and ways to maximize the value of research for themselves and for society.

Visit our Open Research page to learn more about how Wiley is supporting Open Research.  

About the Author

Susanne Gaertner

Research Marketing, Wiley // Susanne is a Marketing Manager working in the Customer Marketing team for Wiley’s Research business.

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