The above figure shows that literature is growing faster than the value of money. While the value of $1.00 in 1990 was worth between $1.67 and $2.50 in 2010, ACL and PUBMED are growing at a rate of three to six times per decade.

Why is literature growing so quickly? Perhaps worldwide research and development budgets have increased in terms of inflation adjusted investments, but I suspect not.

Students are graduating with more publications under their belts than what used to be expected for tenure. So many people are publishing so much that no one has time to think great thoughts,  or take time to learn about things that may not be directly relevant to the next publication. I recently attended a workshop where senior members were encouraging people to take more time to write better papers, and students were pushing back – explaining the current reality of “publish (every month) or perish.”

With so much more content, how should we address the clutter?

It is not productive to complain about a particular bad paper in arXiv. There are too many bad papers and too much clutter to remove each instance, one at a time. A more effective approach would be to address incentives. Why do people feel the need to publish so much?

Bad review processes are like bad papers: there will always be a few good papers that are well worth reading, and many more that are not. So, too, will there always be a few good review processes (like Bell Labs) there are well worth paying attention to, and many more that are not.

Perhaps it is simply more productive to praise the best than to complain about the rest.

More on figure 1: Scatter plot of publications over time showing exponential growth. The plot shows two datasets: PUBMED (labeled ‘p’) and ACL Anthology (labeled ‘a’). Regression lines are shown in red. Publications are increasing at a growth rate of 1.7 times per decade for PUBMED and 2.4 times per decade for ACL.

Emerging Trends covers topics that have been identified as bearing high strategic importance within Natural Language Processing and cutting-edge developments in the field that have the potential to achieve great impact. This blog entry is based off of the latest Emerging Trends article, Inflation, which can be read for free.

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