Scholars seek new ways to track impact

The Chronicle of Higher Education had a piece yesterday on the emerging field (movement?) of altmetrics, or alternative means of measuring the impact of research outside of citation counts and journal impact factors.

I accidentally wandered into this discussion late last year when I posted a link to a piece by Jason Priem, a graduate student at UNC Chapel Hill in Library Science on the use of twitter by academics that led Austin and I to write a response of sorts noting that peer review journals cannot be replaced by twitter or blogs. This stance certainly wouldn’t put us at odds with the goal of altmetrics to try and better capture the impact of scholarship in ways other than peer review journals. I followed up with my suggestions about changes to peer review, that focused on ending blind review and making information on the negotiation between author, reviewer and editor more open after the fact.

Two weeks ago, I wandered in deeper when I attended the ScienceOnline 12 conference after being emailed a newspaper story on it by Austin, asking questions about it on twitter, finding out it was being held at NC State University and that the organizers were from Duke and UNC. I went and can honestly say it was the most interesting conference I have been to in 10 years, mostly because I was constantly confronted with new ideas and new interpretations about what constitutes evidence. Afterward, I think I have more questions than answers.

While attending, I ended up meeting most of the people noted in the Chronicle piece (here is one of my posts on the conference that focuses on altmetrics; here is a link to my peer review papers run through total-impact, run for me by Heather Piwowar (@researchremix) an alpha cite that aims to track non traditional measures alongside traditional ones).

A quote from Priem sums up the motivation of the altmetrics movement I think:

“I’m not down on citations,” Mr. Priem says. “I’m just saying it’s only part of the story. It’s become the only part of the story we care about.”

That’s where altmetrics comes in. It’s a way to measure the “downstream use” of research, says Cameron Neylon, a senior scientist at Britain’s Science and Technology Facilities Council, and another contributor to the manifesto. Any system that turns out to be a useful way to measure influence will tempt the unscrupulous to try and game it, though. One concern is that someone could build a program, for instance, that would keep tweeting links to an article and inflate its altmetrics numbers.”

I will keep watching the altmetrics debate, tools and developments closely.


About Don Taylor
Professor of Public Policy (with appointments in Business, Nursing, Community and Family Medicine, and the Duke Clinical Research Institute), and Chair of the Academic Council at Duke University . I am one of the founding faculty of the Margolis Center for Health Policy. My research focuses on improving care for persons who are dying, and I am co-PI of a CMMI award in Community Based Palliative Care. I teach both undergrads and grad students at Duke. On twitter @donaldhtaylorjr

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