Postwar growth in the length of astronomical and other scientific papers
Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific
The average length of scientific papers has increased by 13% to 115% (average 64%) since World War II in a wide range of English-language journals published in the USA, UK, and Japan in the fields of mathematics, physics, and chemistry as well as astronomy. The average length of letters and other short communications has also increased, by 26% in the last ten years and 76% in the last 20. Journals published in different countries and different disciplines show somewhat different patterns of
... ent patterns of growth. Changes in some journals are closely contemporaneous with changes in editorial policy or larger-scale events like wars. No two people who have examined the data have perceived the same pattern of probable causes. Suggestions include social phenomena (increases in publishing budgets and the ease of manuscript preparation, declining skills in the use of the English language, and publish-or-perish pressures in the direction of longer papers) as well as genuine increases in scientific content, perhaps even more rapid than the increases in length. The data set apparently constitutes a sort of Rorschach blot test of how one thinks science is changing and how it ought to change. The reader must, therefore, draw his own conclusions. If the sociological causes make a significant contribution to the increase in paper length, there is some hope that at least this particular aspect of the literature explosion can be controlled without detriment to scientific endeavor.