How Broken Hyperlinks are Screwing Up Science

By Chris Mills on at

For most of us, a hyperlink 404ing is a problem fixable with a quick visit to the Wayback Machine (or maybe just taking a walk away from the computer and reflecting on the importance of cat GIFs). But for academics, broken links present a major problem.

In case (like me) you thought that broken links were an issue limited to ‘90s GeoCities sites, here are the scary statistics, courtesy of Nature: an analysis of scientific papers from 2012 found that between 13 per cent and 22 per cent of links were broken. Over 80 per cent of papers contained at least one rotten link. For a discipline that involves extensive referencing of other papers to remain credible, that’s a major problem.

The best solution — apart from forcing the entire human race to publish and cite every thought — lies with archiving services. The best-known is probably the Internet Archive, which maintains snapshots of web pages throughout history; the Harvard Law Library also has a service called Perma, aimed specifically at academics.

Archiving services can only go so far in the battle for permanence, though. Broken links aren’t just a problem for the ivory-tower crew: the internet might be humanity’s greatest repository of knowledge, but it’s also enabling us to lose information at a rate of petabytes. [Nature]