Monday, 12 October 2015

Impact of Social Sciences – Enter Alternative Metrics: Indicators that capture the value of research and richness of scholarly discourse


Enter Alternative Metrics: Indicators that capture the value of research and richness of scholarly discourse

Danielle Photo (1)Cat_WilliamsMany
scholars have begun to turn to alternative metrics over traditional
impact indicators as the online transmission and referencing of research
outputs requires an updated understanding of how research makes an
Danielle Padula and Catherine Williams introduce the changing landscape.

This article is an excerpt from The Evolution of Impact Indicators: From bibliometrics to altmetrics, a collection on the state of research impact co-produced by Scholastica and Altmetric.

Given the limitations of bibliometrics, many academics and editors
are looking to new non citation-based article-level indicators of impact
as an alternative. Altmetrics, a type of article level metric, are
metrics gathered from mentions of research in nontraditional online
outlets that can be used to analyze how scholarship is being found,
shared, cited, and discussed. Depending on the information source,
altmetrics can encompass a range of insights including the number of
views and downloads a research output receives, and how often that
research is referenced online in public policy documents, databases,
social media, news media, post-publication peer review forums, blogs,
Wikipedia, and more.

In recent years, companies have emerged with different tools and
services to track article level metrics and altmetrics including Impact
Story, Plum Analytics (owned by EBSCO), and Digital Science company
Altmetric. These tools can be used by journals to gather altmetrics data
for their publication at the journal and article level, and by
individual scholars to track the online activity surrounding their
published works.

altmetrics influenceImage credit: Be free (CC BY-SA)

What are the benefits of altmetrics?

Rachel Borchardt, Science Librarian at American University Bender
Library, said it well in a recent interview with Scholastica: “different
impact indicators can say different things about the same article.”
Over time, scholars and journals have become increasingly concerned that
traditional impact indicators may not be saying enough, and so many
scholars have begun to turn to altmetrics to tell a fuller story,
particularly of the impact of alternative research outputs.

Unlike the IF and other bibliometric impact indicators, altmetrics
can be applied to nontraditional scholarly outputs because altmetrics
consist of data from much more than journal article citations alone.
Additionally, altmetrics address an important logistical challenge of
the Impact Factor (IF): it can take months to years to generate article
citations, especially for research in the humanities and social
sciences. Alternative metrics make it possible for authors of newer
works to show that their research is being read and used long before it
is formally cited, and often almost immediately following publication.

Many are beginning to embrace altmetrics as an alternative impact indicator because they:

  • Track the dissemination of research beyond academia
  • Show the attention, reception, and response to a published work prior to it being cited
  • Can be applied to non-traditional research outputs like data-sets and blog posts
  • Show research impact in real-time — scholars and journals don’t have
    to wait for their score to be released, like in the Journal Citation
As more and more universities and funding institutions in the UK, US,
and beyond seek proof of the impact of scholars’ work beyond academia,
prominent organizations such as the Wellcome Trust are gradually
accepting altmetrics (and in particular the underlying data – such as
examples of news stories featuring scholarly works) as a way scholars
can show how their research is being used and commented on by non
academics in areas like business or public policy proceedings, as well
as mainstream social media.

Questions surrounding altmetrics

While academics, journals, and funding bodies are beginning to embrace altmetrics, certain questions remain.

“For so long, many academics and journals have perceived
IF as untouchable and many are quick to say altmetrics will be riddled
with issues,” said Rachel Borchardt. “The truth is IFs are subject to
many of the same concerns people have about altmetrics – such as gaming
the system. There is no perfect impact indicator – when it comes to
showing the reach of research the truth is somewhere in between. Looking
at multiple impact indicators can offer a more holistic view.”
One misconception surrounding altmetrics is that high counts of
online shares or media mentions are meant to show whether research is
good or bad. Consequently, many people worry that scholars and journals
will try to game the system by heavily promoting catchy articles that
may not in fact be quality scholarship. In reality, as explained by
Brochardt and stressed by altmetrics producers like Altmetric,
alternative metrics are meant to be impact indicators showing that
research is being discussed but leaving it to the reader to determine
whether that buzz is warranted, or indeed occurring for positive or
negative reasons. The cause of altmetrics impact can vary, much like
high counts of bibliometric article citations can be linked to article
endorsements or references to previous articles’ errors.

As scholars, journals, and funders continue to navigate what
altmetrics are meant to be and what they are not, many are seeking
greater standardization of these new impact indicators. The National
Information Standards Organization (NISO) has heeded the call by
launching the Alternative Assessment Metrics (Altmetrics) Initiative,
which has the goal of developing greater standardization of altmetrics
for use in displaying research impact on the journal, article, and
individual scholar level. Rachel Brochardt is a member of NISO’s
committee on altmetrics definitions and use cases, which has been
looking closely at the Becker Medical Library Model for Assessment of Research Impact
(known as the Becker Model) as they try to come up with standards for
altmetrics use. The Becker Model offers an organized list of different
indicators that can be used to show biomedical research impact.

“Standardization has been the biggest impetus for this
committee,” Brochardt explained. “For altmetrics toolmakers, journal
editors and publishers, and researchers, we want to determine the best
ways to use altmetrics to be as rigorous, unambiguous and productive as
they can be.”
The NISO committee hopes these standards will encourage journals,
scholars, and funding bodies to use altmetrics to their full capacity.
In the meantime, many scholars and journals are beginning to adopt these
indicators on their own to show the value of the research they produce
and to make for a richer scholarly discourse.

This article is an excerpt from The Evolution of Impact Indicators: From bibliometrics to altmetrics, a collection on the state of research impact co-produced by Scholastica and Altmetric.

Note: This article gives the views of the authors, and not the
position of the Impact of Social Science blog, nor of the London School
of Economics. Please review our Comments Policy if you have any concerns on posting a comment below.

About the Authors

Danielle Padula is Community Development
Coordinator at Scholastica, where she heads up community outreach and
content creation. Danielle manages Scholastica’s blog and social media
feeds, and creates resources to help journal editors and researchers
navigate the evolving journal-publishing landscape. She tweets for
Scholastica at @scholasticahq.

Catherine Williams is Head of Marketing at
Altmetric. Cat is responsible for determining and overseeing the overall
marketing and outreach strategy of the company, and is actively
involved in the scholarly community. Prior to joining Altmetric, Cat
held marketing roles at Nature Publishing Group and SAGE publications,
where she worked across a range of science, social science and
humanities title

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Impact of Social Sciences – Enter Alternative Metrics: Indicators that capture the value of research and richness of scholarly discourse

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