What are alternative metrics?

How is the output of scholarly research tracked and its impact measured? Traditional ways of measuring how influential academic publications are include, for example, the h-index of an author and the impact factor of a journal. Traditional metrics, however, are slow and focus solely on the official academic citations of published works. As nowadays discussions of and interest in academic work can be found in various places besides official journals and publications, Altmetrics provide alternative citation impact metrics by taking a variety of factors into account, in addition to citation counts. For instance, they consider article views, downloads, or mentions in social media and news media.

Altmetrics “expand our view of what impact looks like, but also of what’s making the impact” (cited from Altmetrics Manifesto). They are calculated by projects like Impactstory and companies like Altmetric.com and Plum Analytics, which aim at helping researchers explore and share the online impact of their research by collecting the online activity surrounding their scholarly contents. This ‘online activity’ can include: peer reviews on Faculty of 1000, citations on Wikipedia and in public policy documents, discussions on research blogs, mainstream media coverage, bookmarks on reference managers like Mendeley, and mentions on social networks such as Twitter.

Indeed, the use of Altmetrics to estimate scholarly impact is far from being uncontroversial, for various reasons. Altmetrics can be gamed, since likes and mentions on social media channels can be bought, and do not tell much, if anything, about the quality of the paper: papers with high altmetrics score might just be very controversial ones.

Anders Yuk Pui Lam

Michele Luchetti

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