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There Are Too Many Studies, New Study Finds

Researchers say there is an “attention decay” in science.

Photo by Flickr user U.S. Army RDECOM.

If you ever feel overwhelmed by the constant production of new research studies, imagine how scientists feel—they have to read the actual studies, and not just rudimentary summaries by journalists who have only a 10th grade understanding of science, like myself. A new study published by researchers in California and Finland finds that the volume of scientific literature produced is so massive that it has had a deteriorating effect on the attention spans of scholars and scientists. The researchers measured citation rates of published papers and discovered that scientists “forget” recent papers more easily than ones published in the past.

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Sound Bites Catch Up to Attention Spans

The average political sound bite is now less than eight seconds as attention spans dwindle in our world of multitasking.


New research finds that the average political sound bite—defined as any footage of a candidate speaking uninterrupted—has dropped to just eight seconds. (About the time it took to you read that last sentence.) To give that information some context, consider that, during the 1968 presidential election, the average sound bite was a full 43 seconds. And as recently as the 1990s, CBS said it wouldn’t broadcast any sound bite under 30 seconds in an effort to better promote informed, complex discourse. Two decades later, we’re letting candidates get out about a third of that before cutting them off.

This trend is not new, nor is it specific to television, with research showing that, in 1916, “the average political quotation in a newspaper story had fallen to about half the length of the average quotation in 1892.” What is new is that this modern clipped sound bite dovetails perfectly with a culture growing less and less able to pay attention.

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