For how long do research papers remain useful?

Academic research papers remain useful for several years after publication, according to a study of more than 2,800 journal articles

The study by Phil Davis Consulting looked at the number of article downloads from academic and professional journals in the sciences, social sciences and humanities.

It then measured the usage “half-life”, a term that describes the time it takes for a piece of work to reach half of its total number of downloads, for papers in 10 disciplines.

Almost 17 per cent of the articles had a half-life of more than six years and only 3 per cent had half-lives below 12 months.

Typically, journal articles in the humanities, physics and mathematics had the longest half-lives, with a median of four to five years. Papers in the health sciences had the shortest half-lives, at two to three years.

The study, published in November, gave median half-lives as a range to standardise the data across different publishers.

Source: “Journal Usage Half-Life” by Philip M. Davis. * The median age of articles downloaded from a publisher’s website

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