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The Future of Metrics in Science

Posted in UC3

Ask any researcher what they need for tenure, and the answer is virtually the same across institutions and disciplines: publications.  The “publish or perish” model has reigned supreme for generations of scientists, despite its rather annoying ignorance of having quality over quantity publications, how many collaborations have been established, or even the novelty or difficulty of a particular research project.  This archaic measure of impact tends to rely measures like a scientist’s number of citations and the impact factor of the journals in which they publish.

With the upswing in blogs, Twitter feeds, and academic social sites like MendeleyZotero, and (my favorite) CiteULike, some folks are working on developing a new model for measuring one’s impact on science.  Jason Priem, a graduate student at UNC’s School of Information and Library Science, coined the term “altmetrics” rather recently, and the idea has taken off like wildfire.

altmetrics is the creation and study of new metrics based on the Social Web for analyzing, and informing scholarship.

The concept is simple: instead of using traditional metrics for measuring impact (citation counts, journal impact factors), Priem and his colleagues want to take into account more modern measures of impact like number of bookmarks, shares, or re-tweets.  In addition, altmetrics seeks to consider not only publications, but associated data or code downloads.

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The original alternatives: The Sex Pistols. From Arroz Do Ceu ( Read more about the beginnings of alternative rock in Dave Thompson’s book “Alternative Rock”.

Old-school scientists and Luddites might balk at the idea of measuring a scientist’s impact on the community by the number of re-tweets their article received, or by the number of downloads of their dataset.  This reaction can be attributed to several causes, one of which may be an irrational fear of change.  But the reality is that the landscape of science is changing dramatically, and the trend towards social media as a scientific tool is only likely to continue.  See my blog post on why scientists should tweet for more information on the benefits of embracing one of the aspects of this trend.

Need another reason to get onboard? Funders see the value in altmetrics.  Priem, along with his co-PI (and my DataONE colleague) Heather Piwowar, just received $125K from the Sloan Foundation to expand their Total Impact project.  Check out the Total Impact website for more information, or read the UNC SILS news story about the grant.

The DCXL project feeds right into the concept of altmetrics.  By providing citations for datasets that are housed in data centers, the impact of a scientist’s data can be easily incorporated into their impact factor.

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