We always hear about the increasing number of publications published every year and the resulting information overload in science. I wanted to show this trend to students to highlight why they should care about information literacy and search strategies. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a reliable source that highlights this trend, e.g. in an easy understandable figure.

I searched for publications including this information and even hoped for Web of Science or Google Scholar to publish this information but couldn't find anything useful. It is not that important what kinds of publication types are included, e.g. only journal articles or all kinds of publications.

Has anyone a reliable and relatively easy to understand source highlighting the trend of increasing global number of publications over time?

  • Is that trend the same as the increase in degrees given out compared to 30, 40 or 50 years ago? – Solar Mike Mar 24 at 15:52
  • The underlying reasons may be related. – FuzzyLeapfrog Mar 24 at 16:01
  • Microsoft's Academic search team presented such a chart at the 2016 Microsoft Academic Summit in New York. My recollection is that the overall trend was about 7 percent per year growth in citations, going back to the nineteenth century. The trend was steady, with three exceptions: Major drops during the World Wars, and lack of growth during the Great Depression. If anything, the growth rate was higher in recent decades. I helped prepare the results, but I do not have a copy. – Jasper Mar 24 at 23:15

I found an archived version of the 2018 MTS Report. Among other statistics, it has this plot of the scientific output from 1975-2018 and four different databases:

2018 MTS Report

The Web of Science (WoS) line looks rather similar to the earlier results of Bornmann and Mutz (2014), who produced this figure for 1980-2012 using a copy of WoS' database:

Exponential growth

  • Thank you, this is a good starting point. Yes, it would be great to have more up-to-date numbers. According to this blogpost we already hit the 2.5 million publications per year in 2015 but the cited STM report from 2015 is no longer available online. Could be up to 3 million per year now ... – FuzzyLeapfrog Mar 24 at 15:59
  • @FuzzyLeapfrog I couldn't access the STM reports (2015 or 2018) either. There's a NSF report reporting 2,290,294 publications for 2014 though. – Anyon Mar 24 at 16:06
  • I'll include this figure in my lecture slides untill I'll stumble over a more up-to-date source. Maybe the STM documents will be availble again sometime. – FuzzyLeapfrog Mar 24 at 16:22
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    Nice answer. The figures are less impressive when related to population growth (although I'm not sure how relevant this is, given that most population growth happens in the poor countries that don't produce much research). – henning Mar 24 at 17:54
  • Webarchive is the best. Thank you for the update! – FuzzyLeapfrog Mar 24 at 19:16

arxiv.org presents his own statistics, but be aware that a lot of publications from humanities and biomedical sciences are missing in this statistics:

enter image description here

This chart also shows the exponential trend on arxiv.

Long-term chart:

enter image description here

Very long-term chart:

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There is also biorxiv covering the missing biomedical scientific branches, much younger than arxiv but there is a quite detailed statistical report on its growth.

Publication: Attention decay in science (due to exponential growth)

(To me it's also interesting how this correlates with the number of PhD students in another answer and how this can be explained... did internet boost scientific productivity and/or number of PhD students?!)

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    Note that arXiv has progressively expanded its scope, so the growth in the linked chart will partly reflect that, as well as changing attitudes to preprints in some subfields. – Anyon Mar 24 at 18:49
  • @Anyon thanks, I added biorxiv, was not aware of this clone for biomedical sciences – user847982 Mar 24 at 18:58
  • That's not exponential growth, though... – nabla Mar 24 at 19:11
  • @nabla the "attention decay in science" paper has some exponential fits in it and the long-term charts show the trend better – user847982 Mar 24 at 19:16
  • Sure, but the curves shown before the edit were not examples of exponential growth. – nabla Mar 24 at 20:23

For the field of mathematics, another source of data is the AMS Math Reviews (MathSciNet), where this type of information is readily available (just search for the year you want). Virtually every reputable math publication gets indexed there nowadays. Also, unlike something like Google Scholar, only reputable journals get indexed and each publication appears only once. Math Reviews is a paid service, so you'd need to be affiliated with a university with a subscription. (I don't know how complete this data is as you go further back in time. Maybe someone else has a better sense of this.)

For example, here are the total number of mathematics publications for various years at 10-year intervals.

2018: 111,018; 2008: 99,268; 1998: 67,807; 1988: 55,420; 1978: 36,637; 1968: 19,615; 1958: 10,249; 1948: 5,456; 1938: 1,417; 1928: 1,439; 1918: 632; 1908: 729; 1898: 710; 1888: 266; 1878: 181

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