Herbert Van de Sompel, an information scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory Research Library in New Mexico, quantified the alarming extent of this ‘link rot’ and ‘content drift’ (together, ‘reference rot’) in a paper published last December (PLoS ONE 9, e115253; 2014). With a group of researchers under the auspices of the Hiberlink project (http://hiberlink.org), he analysed more than 1 million ‘web-at-large’ links (defined as those beginning with ‘http://’ that point to sites other than research articles) in some 3.5 million articles published between 1997 and 2012. The Hiberlink team found that in articles from 2012, 13% of hyperlinks in arXiv papers and 22% of hyperlinks in papers from Elsevier journals were rotten (the proportion rises in older articles), and overall some 75% of links were not cached on any Internet archiving site within two weeks of the article’s publication date, meaning their content might no longer reflect the citing author’s original intent — although the reader may not know this.et al.
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