Altmetrics as indicators of economic and social impact

This is a guest contribution from Isabella Peters.

This session focussed on in how far altmetrics are capable of indicating economic and social impact. Anup Kumar Das (Jawaharlal Nehru University, India) talked about “Altmetrics and the changing societal needs of research communications at R&D centres in an emerging country: A case study of India”. He presented in what ways the best research university in India supports their researchers in building up altmetrics skills. Interestingly, until 2010 India has not used any citations or altmetrics for research evaluation and funding decisions. Also, there are no general strategies and no awareness for appropriate means for science communication in India. Still, universities do not work with communications officers and alike. Here Anup sees a chance for documentation officers, research officers, and information scientists to be engaged in taking that role. Right now Anup and colleagues train researchers how to set up social media accounts to promote their research and they also use listservs and Facebook and Google groups to disseminate the outcomes of the university. In order to guide readers to the content a blog (Ccp-jnu.blogspot.in), Twitter account (@indiasts), and audio archives (mixcloud.com/cssp_jnu) are in their repertoire as well. They often rely on papers and other research output stored in one of India’s 66 open access repositories (e.g., shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in). Granting access to content via open access repositories and combining them with altmetrics information is the only way to overcome the lack of references to India’s scientific articles, thinks Anup.

Similar approaches have recently been started in Singapore. Theng Yin Leng (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore) introduced the project “Altmetrics: Rethinking and Exploring new ways of measuring research outputs” (SRIE Award No. NRF2014–‐NRF–‐SRIE001–‐019) in which she and colleagues plan to develop a dashboard helping researchers and institutions monitoring the impact scientific publications have on the (social) web. Training the researchers to effectively and responsibly communicate scholarly results to interested peer groups is also part of the project as well as research on algorithms to derive metrics from social media.

Next, Lauren Ashby (SAGE) and Mathias Astell (Nature Publishing Group) shed light on “The empty chair at the altmetrics table” and discussed the absence of educational impact metrics and a framework for their creation. They made the case for journals, books, and other types of research output and their educational impact on people, for example in teaching and learning in the field of nursing. What they have found is that there are certain types of publications that are used by a variety of audiences whereas there are others which address very specific needs of a small group of people. Journals, for example, are similarly often used by practitioners, students, teachers, and researchers whereas textbooks are of greater value to practitioners. However, scientists often do not get credit for publishing textbooks, no dedicated metrics are at hand, and, thus, incentives for developing these publications are low. Lauren and Mathias proposed to use counts from syllabi and reading lists as well as publisher usage statistics and university or public library holdings to overcome this lack of indicators. This would also raise global awareness of usage of scholarly outputs in education.

Who is actually consuming and disseminating scientific publications on the web has also been studied by Juan Pablo Alperin (Simon Fraser University, Canada) and was presented in “Evolving altmetrics to capture impact outside the academy”. He constructed an automated tool (Twitter bot) to send tweets to researchers who have a Twitter account and also tweeted a link to publications indexed in SciELO (scielo.org). The tweet contained the question “Are you affiliated with a university?” which was answered by 5% of contacted researchers. Apparently, 36% of those are not related with a university although one might have accepted that people tweeting scientific articles are professional researchers (i.e., employed at a university). Instead it was, amongst others, podcasters, associations, patient groups, a restaurant owner, and unemployed who read research articles for self-enhancement who tweeted the article URLs. Juan Pablo says that this finding explains the low correlations between citation numbers and tweets which are often found: more than a third of twitterers will never cite formally in scientific publications. Hence, we still need to better understand who produces social media metrics and what that means for indicator use.

Taking up this last point and since there has been a vivid discussion on what altmetrics actually mean and reflect, Stefanie Haustein (Université de Montréal, Canada) and Rodrigo Costas (CWTS Leiden, the Netherlands) had a look at theoretical frameworks which might help making sense of altmetrics. In their talk on “Citation theories and their application to altmetrics” Stefanie and Rodrigo especially stressed that the heterogeneity of available data from social media platforms (e.g., recommendations, microblogging etc.) and the different concepts underlying their affordances make it difficult to have a clear definition for altmetrics. However, they believe that established frameworks that can be borrowed from bibliometrics can guide altmetrics methodologies and interpretation of results. Also, the theories highlight the heterogeneity of actions performed on the social media platforms. For example they found that the Normative Theory can be applied to services like F1000 and Mendeley but not to Twitter because of its brevity and diverse user groups. Moreover, theories can be classified according to the purpose of (alt)metrics use, i.e. research evaluation (e.g., Normative Theory or Social Constructivist Theory) or content analysis and mapping (e.g., Concept Symbols). More details on the elaborated thoughts on citation theories and their application to altmetrics can be found in the full paper available at arXiv (http://arxiv.org/abs/1502.05701).

The session showed that there is a diversity of altmetrics initiatives spread all over the world but that those projects differ in their state of maturity. In general the uptake of altmetrics indicators for several target groups and use cases has increased and interest in altmetrics research is high. All speakers were unified in their call for concerted efforts on better understanding what altmetrics are about and for pragmatic approaches to standardize altmetrics indicators. Unfortunately, there was no time for questions during the conference but the authors signalled that they can be reached via diverse social media channels as well as email after #2AMconf.

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