Peak oil is when "the maximum extraction of oil is reached, after which the rate of production is expected to enter terminal decline". This, of course, won't happen to papers. There will probably always be papers to be written and things to be discovered.
But back in the days, you could get into Science with a smart experiment that you had already published and add a model and some equations*. Nowadays, getting into C/N/S requires an almost endless amount of experiments and an even more endless amount of control experiments. You can argue that this is because reviewers and editors require people to do more and more, but I think it is also because fields move forward and questions become more complicated and more narrow. In my field** it's clearly more complicated than just measuring glutamate levels in the accumbens and saying that that drives any type of motor output. It's necessary to figure out exactly which cells and which inputs onto these cells are involved in a behavioral output (or even better: which synapses from which cell!). And not just if they happen to be involved, but rather if these cells and the inputs they receive are necessary for this particular behavior. And then obviously a boatload of control experiments that don't even end up in the actual paper***.
This makes me wonder if someday soon, it will no longer be possible within the duration of one PhD project or one post-doc to gather enough data for one C/N/S paper? Is this a bad thing and do we in someway need to reset the criteria?
* not to say that this wasn't a very important Science paper, but just to illustrate the amount of work necessary to get into Science.
** I realize that illustrating which field I am in may make it even easier for readers and followers to deduce who I am. This is a choice that I've made because it just takes me too much time to come up with bunny hopping analogies to what I want to illustrate. And also because if you've followed me here and on twitter it's really probably not that hard to figure out who I am anyway. Which I've decided is okay. Hi mom!
*** Did you know that nowadays we call Supplementary Data "Extended Data"?