Altmetrics: Is it Gaining Traction as a Measure of Research Impact?

In July 2014, without any fan fare, we embedded the donut-shaped Altmetric Badge as a new feature on Synapse (MSK Publication database). What this new feature provides to the viewer, when available, is a way to measure the online attention received by a particular work, with the option to be alerted whenever the work receives any new mentions. The Altmetric score is “derived from an automated algorithm, and represents a weighted count of the amount of attention ….. picked up for a research output.” Readers and authors can click on the donut score to be taken to the details page for that specific work where they can further explore all the original mentions and sources. The Altmetric Donut Badge is not unique to Synapse; it can also be found on a variety of publishers’ platforms including Elsevier, Springer Nature, and PLoS.

Altmetrics, or alternative metrics, introduced a new approach to determine the value, impact, or popularity of research within the digital scholarly ecosystem. These web-based metrics come in the form of tallied views, downloads, cites, saves, bookmarks, tweets, shares, likes, recommends, posts, comments, and tags.  Tweets, for example are displayed in the context of a map showing the global Twitter reach of the work. You can also review the News tab to see which news outlets picked up the published research to share beyond the scientific community.  Available information is delivered in real time and can change daily. 

Recently, I attended an Altmetric User Day where I was able to listen to use cases of how other institutions are integrating Altmetrics into their workflow.  One use case that caught my attention was from Duke University.  It involved a Professor of Psychology who manages a team of twelve researchers.  Dr. Terrie Moffit wanted to find an easier and quicker way to communicate the reach and impact of her team’s work when completing grant reports and used Altmetric to accomplish this task.

I was drawn to the mention of grant reporting and how Altmetrics data could contribute to and enhance the information reported about one’s research output.  Given the new “contributions to science” section of the NIH Biosketch, one might want to highlight the extent of the digital dissemination of their works by noting the media coverage, sharing how often their works were tweeted (to include key tweets from specific experts in the field), or documenting how many times their works were commented on in PubMed Commons.

Assessing research impact is certainly not a new concept. While no research metric is foolproof, Altmetric brings a new dimension to the table that compliments traditional research and usage statistics.  Altmetrics should be used in tandem to provide a broader picture of the work’s immediate impact in real time.  The social web provides a wonderful platform to share and discover research. It makes sense for researchers to want to capture the online activity surrounding their work, if only to fill the time gap that exists between new journal publications and tracking the impact of these papers with traditional metrics (e.g. Journal Impact Factor, Citation Counts).  The next time you search for a scholarly research paper, take a moment to see if there are any available Altmetrics – you might be surprised at the information you can glean from this data.

Donna Gibson
Director of Library Services