An important part of an entomologist’s job is to stay up-to-date with the published scientific literature. However, keeping up with it is more challenging than it used to be, and noticeable publishing changes have occurred over the past 60 years, according to an article in American Entomologist.
Dr. Thomas Chouvenc and Dr. Nan-Yao Su, termite researchers at the University of Florida, found that entomology articles have steadily increased, and have reached record highs during the last decade. The articles are also more accessible, which means today’s entomologist must decide how much time should be spent simply keeping up with current information.
“A myrmecologist in 1959 had to screen through 1.5 ant publications per week to keep up with the current literature,” they wrote. “This increased to 5.2 ant publications per week in 1974. In 2009, the same myrmecologist must scan 34.9 ant publications per week.”
In addition to 34.9 ant publications, the insects that were the subjects of the most scholarly articles per week were mosquitoes (45.3), butterflies (20.3), aphids (19.4), moths (17.5), weevils (14.6), and honey bees (12.7). Surprisingly, the number of weekly articles on bed bugs was only 2.9, but that number is five times higher than it was just a few years ago.
Another interesting trend is an increase in articles that are written by two or more authors. In the late 1970s, 55% of entomological articles were published by a single author, 28% by two authors, and 17% by three or more authors. But in the late 2000s, authorship has changed drastically. Only 31% are published by a single author, 24% are published by two authors, and 45% are published by three or more authors.
The authors list four possible factors that could explain this: 1) Collaboration may have become necessary to tackle projects with broad implications. 2) Entomologists have gradually converted from naturalists (single people making observations) to experimental scientists who need to collaborate with individuals with different skills and backgrounds. 3) Increased competition in academia is driving scientists to increase their numbers of publications. 4) Entomology has become multidisciplinary and entomologists must increasingly work with molecular biologists, toxicologists, and other scientists.
In addition to higher numbers of authors, Chouvenc and Su also noticed an increase in pages per article and an increase in the number of references cited. They also found that the number of entomology articles that are cited within five years of publication is relatively low.
“An astonishing 77% of overall entomological literature was either never cited or poorly cited (<1 citation per year)," they wrote, noting that the number for all scientific publications is about 60-80%.
The authors predict that these trends will continue and that the number of articles will increase and they will be longer, with ever more citations.
"With an overwhelming flow of information, it remains the task of the entomologist to screen through the massive body of literature that is constantly updated, and to determine how relevant and valuable a publication can be for one’s own research," the authors wrote. "After all, there is only so much we can read and analyze … and remember."
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