More than 2 million research papers have disappeared from the Internet

An analysis of DOIs suggests that digital preservation is not keeping up with burgeoning scholarly knowledge.


More than one-quarter of scholarly articles are not being properly archived and preserved

A study of over seven million digital publications has found that more than one-quarter of scholarly articles are not being properly archived and preserved. The findings, published in the Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication, indicate that systems to preserve papers online have failed to keep pace with the growth of research output.

According to Martin Eve, a researcher at Birkbeck, University of London and involved in research and development at Crossref, the entire epistemology of science and research relies on the ability to verify and access previous work. The failure to preserve articles online leads to a loss of historical knowledge.

The study checked whether 7,438,037 works with DOIs are held in archives, and found that more than two million articles were not present in a major digital archive despite having an active DOI.

Digital preservation remains a challenge

While the study has some limitations, it highlights the digital preservation challenge faced by e-journals. The assumption that having a DOI guarantees long-term availability is incorrect, as many open-access journals have disappeared from the Internet.

Preservation specialists agree that stronger requirements at DOI registration agencies and increased education and awareness among publishers and researchers could help improve digital preservation. Financial constraints also pose a challenge, with small publishers at higher risk of failing to preserve articles due to lack of resources.

The study calls for a shift in mindset, emphasizing the importance of long-term sustainability in the research ecosystem.

Implications for the research community

The findings of this study raise concerns about the accessibility and reliability of scholarly articles in the long term. With a significant number of articles not properly archived, there is a risk of losing valuable knowledge and hindering scientific progress.

To address this issue, it is crucial for DOI registration agencies, publishers, and researchers to prioritize digital preservation. This includes investing in infrastructure, technology, and expertise to ensure the continuous availability of research articles.

Ultimately, the study serves as a reminder to consider the long-term impact of research and the importance of preserving scientific knowledge for future generations.