Initiatives to validate altmetrics

Altmetrics, which stands for alternative metrics, has already attracted scholars and has become the object of scientific studies. Last year, for example, Several studies by Xuemei Li, Business Librarian at York University, Toronto, Canada, is among an early cohort of researchers who are studying and validating the usefulness of altmetrics published in an academic journal. She was quoted as saying: “the traces left by researchers and the general public through those social media tools hold big potential for measuring different research influences, and this is what altmetrics aims to measure. Altmetrics can be used to complement traditional citation-based measurements.”

Others have gone one step further in the level of granularity that such metrics can bring, in forecasting research trends. A recent study by Xianwen Wang and colleagues at the Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, Hungary, developed “a method to trace scientists’ research trends in real time, based on investigating the downloads statistics of scientific articles in the journal of Scientometrics over 744 hours, namely one month. Furthermore, taking both the downloads of keywords and articles into consideration, they design a method to detect the emerging research trends.”

The nature of how alternative metrics will be shaped was discussed at the Innovation Impacts in STM: New Metrics, Big Data, Cool Apps, STM’s Innovations Seminar held in London on 7 December 2012. Participants discussed how far we have progressed since scientometrics was introduced by Derek de Solla Price, as the science of measuring and analysing science. One speaker concludes that three criteria are essential to introduce new metrics. The conference report states: “The measure should be scalable – that is it should be possible to aggregate to the level of research groups. It should be transparent in data management – the sort of data that is being used should be transparent to researchers who should be able to argue back to the evaluators – and the measure should allow for normalisation and context. If someone is interested in the social impact of a piece of research, he pointed out, citation data is useless for this purpose.”

Finally, one of the issue encountered by those attempting to validate altmetrics, is that they need to recognise the need to evolve in line with the rapid way in which research information is managed, as pointed out in a recent editorial: “ A few years from now, scientific findings may be found in specialised archives attended only by field specialists. Comments from readers arising from the archiving could be considered as adequately refined metrics susceptible to be part of an alternative assessment system.”

Featured image credit: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 by Harold de Smet

Sabine Louët

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