Altmetrics: measure of scholarly output

altmetricIn recent years, a new trend in quantifying the impact of scholarly output has emerged called Altmetrics.

Whereas the traditional measure of importance for a scientific publication is the number of times cited within other scholarly publications, Altmetrics considers a completely new set of indicators of impact.  An article’s Altmetrics score is determined by its number of mentions across a variety of social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, and blogs as well as mentions in traditional news outlets.  Mentions in different platforms are weighted differently, so a single tweet does not count the same as a mention on a blog.  Mentions are weighted and tallied giving a composite Altmetrics score that is often presented within a donut composed of various colors that give a visual indicator of the sources of these mentions.

A recent ‘Viewpoint’ article in JAMA entitled The Rise of Altmetrics looks at how Altmetrics appears to reward articles with different characteristics than those that are highly rated according to traditional citation analysis.  While looking at the top 100 articles ranked by Altmetrics scores during the past several years, the authors found that there was often little to no link between a high Altmetrics score and the number of citations an article receives.  This finding indicates that these two measures of scholarly impact reward different things.  In the author’s analysis of the top 100 Altmetrics articles they found a significant number which related to topics with broad public interest such as diet, exercise, and the vaccine-autism controversy as examples.

Their observations have important ramifications for those wishing to quantify scholarly impact as it shows that the choice between Altmetrics and traditional citation analysis will necessarily cause different publications to rise to the top.  It’s unclear to what extent Altmetrics will influence decision-making processes such as tenure in future years but, based on the findings of this article, it will be important for decision makers to understand and define the characteristics of scholarly publications they wish to measure and to pick a metric accordingly.


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