URLs Often Too Elusive for Reference

By Deane Barker on December 4, 2003

On the Web, Research Work Proves Ephemeral: URLs are not permanent and they’re often out-lived by the footnotes in research papers, rendering references to Web content largely useless.

In research described in the journal Science last month, the team looked at footnotes from scientific articles in three major journals — the New England Journal of Medicine, Science and Nature — at three months, 15 months and 27 months after publication. The prevalence of inactive Internet references grew during those intervals from 3.8 percent to 10 percent to 13 percent. […]

That matters in part because some documents exist only as Web pages — for example, the British government’s dossier on Iraqi weapons. “It only appeared on the Web,” Worlock said. “There is no definitive reference where future historians might find it.”