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Vanishing Knowledge: Academia’s Looming Crisis

A startling new study reveals that over 2 million scholarly articles – more than a quarter of papers published online – are missing from major digital archives and in danger of becoming permanently inaccessible [*].

The analysis examined over 7 million research publications with digital object identifiers (DOIs), unique codes meant to ensure these works can be permanently found and cited. However, 28% of DOI-registered papers were not properly preserved in any leading digital repository.

As author Martin Eve from Birkbeck, University of London warns, “Our entire epistemology of science and research relies on the chain of footnotes. If you can’t verify what someone else has said, you’re just trusting to blind faith.”

The failure to robustly archive this scientific output poses an existential threat to human knowledge. Unfindable papers mean lost data, unreproducible work, and a broken trajectory of advancing research across fields.

Digital preservation capabilities have simply not kept pace with the exponential growth of online publishing and the transition of scholarly communications to the internet age. Stronger archiving mandates, funding for preservation infrastructure, and widespread policy changes are urgently needed.

[*] https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-024-00616-5