UPDATE: Article co-author Phil Davis provides a summary/commentary in this new post on The Scholarly Kitchen.
The following research article posted to arXiv on Tuesday, April 28, 2015.
Philip M. Davis
Independent Researcher and Publishing Consultant
Director, Journals American Society of Civil Engineers
Analyzing 13,455 journals listed in the Journal Citation Report (Thomson Reuters) from 1997 through 2013, we report that the mean cited half-life of the scholarly literature is 6.5 years and growing at a rate of 0.13 years per annum. Focusing on a subset of journals (N=4,937) for which we have a continuous series of half-life observations, 209 of 229 (91%) subject categories experienced increasing cited half-lives. Contrary to the overall trend, engineering and chemistry journals experienced declining cited half-lives. Last, as journals attracted more citations, a larger proportion of them were directed toward older papers. The trend to cite older papers is not fully explained by technology (digital publishing, search and retrieval, etc.), but may be the result of a structural shift to fund incremental and applied research over fundamental science.