Attention Decay in Science

adhd-addAttention, measured by the number and lifetime of citations, is the main currency of the scientific community. Along with other forms of recognition is the basis for promotions and the reputation of scientists. A new scientific study(1) concludes that, today, attention is decaying in science. The exponential growth in the number of papers makes it increasingly difficult for researchers to keep track of all the publications relevant to their work.

For most fields the number of yearly citations to a given paper rises after its publication and peaks within 2-7 years. The peak is followed by a decay in the number of citations that reflects the obsolescence of older knowledge. In recent times papers are taking less time to reach the peak of their attention.

Attention DecayThe decay is getting faster and faster, indicating that scholars “forget” more easily papers now than in the past. This amnesia has to do with the exponential growth in the number of publications, which inevitably accelerates the turnover of papers, due to the finite capacity of scholars to keep track of the scientific literature.


(1) Parolo, Briotta, Pietro Della, Raj Kumar Pan, Rumi Ghosh, Bernardo A. Huberman, Kimmo Kaski, and Santo Fortunato. 2015. Attention Decay in Science. SSRN Scholarly Paper ID 2575225. Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network.

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