Monday, 16 January 2017

The Rise of Altmetrics | Medical Journals and Publishing | JAMA | The JAMA Network


January 10, 2017

The Rise of Altmetrics

JAMA. 2017;317(2):131-132. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.18346

With the world’s academic
output currently standing at 2.5 million articles per year and doubling
every 9 years, sifting the relevant from the irrelevant is vital for
researchers, publishers, and funding bodies.
Until recently, the influence of a published article
would primarily be measured by its citations, a slow process resulting
in a long wait before the importance of an article is truly recognized.
Views of the article (including PDF and HTML) are another measure of
importance, but views can also accumulate slowly. Altmetrics are
increasingly recognized tools that aim to measure the real-time reach
and influence of an academic article.
Altmetric scores quantify the digital attention an
article receives in a multitude of online sources. Social media,
Wikipedia, public policy documents, blogs, and mainstream news are
tracked and screened by the Altmetric database. References to research
outputs are traced back to their unique identifier code. The Altmetric
algorithm produces a weighted score to reflect the relative reach of
each source. For instance, blogs are weighted differently than a
mainstream news report. This process allows the attention an individual
article receives to be measured from the moment the article is
Source data are used to generate the distinctive and
colorful Altmetric “donut” as a graphic representation of the reach of
an article. Each colored stripe in the donut represents a different
platform on which the article has been mentioned, as demonstrated in the
Altmetric donuts are often used by publishers, institutions, and
researchers to showcase the dissemination of their research output.
The Altmetric Donut
The Altmetric Donut
Altmetric donut illustrates the dissemination of a research output
through different channels. Each colored stripe represents a different
platform on which the work was mentioned. The central number is the
Altmetric score.
Altmetrics complement standard citation scores and views
in quantifying the interest and debate an article generates, from the
moment it is published. Altmetric scores enable potential readers to
quickly filter the wealth of scientific literature that is published and
to identify articles that are generating interest.
For the past 3 years Altmetric has published a list of
the top 100–scoring articles, arguably representing the 100 most
influential scientific publications of the year.1
The list of the top 100 articles in 2015 provides an indication of the
most widely discussed scientific literature from November 2014 to
November 2015. Analysis of these articles enables consideration of what
kinds of articles have captured the interest of the general public and
stimulated discussion.
Thirty-four different journals were represented in the 2015 Altmetric top 100. Established, high-impact journals such as Nature and Science
constituted a significant share of the top 100, with 14 and 13
articles, respectively. Newer journals were also strongly represented,
such as PLoS ONE with 6 articles, possibly reflecting its open access model.
The majority of articles in the top 100 were published
by universities and research centers, although Google and Facebook also
contributed articles, recognizing the contribution of corporate bodies
to modern research.
Analysis of the top 100 articles highlights the themes
that have attracted the most widespread online attention. Altmetrics
classify each article in the top 100 according to subject. In 2015,
medical and health science articles represented 36 of the top 100,
making this the most popular subject. Biological sciences were the
second most popular subject with 17 articles, studies in human society
accounted for 11 articles, and earth and environmental sciences had 10
articles. The remaining articles were described as information and
computer sciences (8 articles), physical sciences (7), research and
reproducibility (7), and history and archaeology (4).
To understand which topics generated the most online
engagement within the field of medical and health sciences, the titles
of these 36 articles were reviewed and screened for recurrent themes or
key words. For example, the top Altmetric-scoring article, “A New
Antibiotic Kills Pathogens Without Detectable Resistance”2 published in Nature, was associated with the themes microbiology and antibiotic resistance.
The most frequently occurring theme in the medical and
health science articles was diet, featured in 11 of the 36 titles.
Closely following diet, 10 of the 36 articles referred to human
mortality and various factors influencing it. Other recurring themes
included exercise (4 articles), cancer (3), and global health (3).
Only a single surgical journal appeared in the top 100 in 2015. Published in BJU International, a systematic review of flaccid and erect penis length and circumference and novel nomogram from more than 15 000 men3 was 46th among the top 100.
The frequency at which medical and health sciences
appear highlights the widespread interest in human health and disease.
However, this interest appears to be largely limited to topics directly
relevant to the general public, such as diet and exercise. The concept
of a healthy lifestyle contributing to a longer, healthier life is not
new, but it still generates significant online public engagement.
It is important to interpret Altmetric scores with
caution. Although these scores provide a powerful tool in recognizing
the reach of an article in real time, they are not a direct substitute
for traditional markers of scientific importance. If taken in isolation,
Altmetric scores might further promote and legitimize sensationalized
Certainly a number of articles in the top 100 have been
regularly cited in the scientific literature, such as the previously
mentioned top-scoring paper of 2015 with a current citation count of
In comparison, the article in the Altmetric second position, which
supports the lack of link between autism and measles-mumps-rubella (MMR)
vaccination among children with older siblings with autism, has been
cited 19 times.4
Although this article has been viewed more than 153 000 times, it seems
the controversy and widely held public misconceptions surrounding MMR
vaccination have influenced its Altmetric score, rather than at this
point contributing to a substantial number of citations. Review of the
2015 Altmetric top 100 articles did not demonstrate a clear link between
Altmetric score and number of citations. Research suggests a higher
Altmetric score can be linked to a higher citation count, but the
magnitude of the correlation is unclear.5
The importance of public engagement with scientific
output should not be underestimated. Research output contributes to the
continuing interest and education in scientific fields and inspires the
scientists of tomorrow. Altmetrics provide a powerful tool with which to
measure this interest.
Thematic analysis of the Altmetric top 100 articles of
2015 has demonstrated that despite thousands of years of evolution in
society and the increasing complexity in day-to-day lives, the most
basic human instincts of food, survival, and reproduction captured the
attention in the literature in 2015.

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Article Information
Corresponding Author:
Hannah R. Warren, MBBS, MPhys, The Urology Centre, Guy’s and St Thomas’
NHS Foundation Trust, Great Maze Pond, London SE1 9RT, England (
Conflict of Interest Disclosures:
All authors have completed and submitted the ICMJE Form for Disclosure
of Potential Conflicts of Interest and none were reported.

Altmetric. Altmetric top 100 articles 2015. Accessed October 3, 2016.
 LL, Schneider
 T, Peoples
 et al.  A new antibiotic kills pathogens without detectable resistance. Nature. 2015;517(7535):455-459.
 D, Miles
 S, Bramley
 S, Muir
 G, Hodsoll
 J.  Am I normal? a systematic review and construction of
nomograms for flaccid and erect penis length and circumference in up to
15,521 men. BJU Int. 2015;115(6):978-986.
 A, Marshall
 J, Buikema
 A, Bancroft
 T, Kelly
 JP, Newschaffer
 CJ.  Autism occurrence by MMR vaccine status among US children with older siblings with and without autism. JAMA. 2015;313(15):1534-1540.
 M, Haustein
 S, Larivière
 V, Sugimoto
 CR.  Do altmetrics work? Twitter and ten other social web services. PLoS One. 2013;8(5):e64841.

The Rise of Altmetrics | Medical Journals and Publishing | JAMA | The JAMA Network


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