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Alternative stimulus response June 7, 2013

Posted by Mia in Frontiers.

Something’s been bugging me.  There is a huge swell of interest in alternative metrics as an indicator of scholarly and social impact. These alternatives are distinguished from traditional bibliometrics which focus primarily on ISI’s journal impact factor (jif).

The scholarly journal framework has dematerialized into a loose, unbounded container — although “journal” is still a useful model and I don’t think it has outlived its purpose quite yet. It still meaningfully represents a collection of thematically related, stand-alone information units – otherwise known as “articles” — and regardless of whether the collection is completely virtual.

The direct dissemination of information will continue to inspire the creation of new and emerging models which will help us understand how scholarly information is propagated, absorbed, and digested into the broader community. Perhaps it is more of an organic process than we realize.

Some are calling for the inclusion of altmetrics into tenure packages, but I would be wary of endorsing such general recommendations, particularly since it is academia which misappropriated the use of the JIF for determining research ‘value’ in the first place.

There are tremendous differences in the way in which various disciplines conduct, generate and communicate research/results.

The click of a link may be an interesting pattern generator, but so much further analysis has to be conducted on those patterns in order to gain understanding of what they might meaningfully represent.

Internet/infotainment phenomena have very short life spans.  Reputation management is on the rise. Using Capitalizing on SEO tactics to drive more traffic in a particular direction may boost altmetric “scores”, but like a downpour on parched earth, there’s a lot of runoff with no absorption.   The lack of the term ‘altmetrics’ in this blogpost title is intentional.

Reflection and digestion take time.  Unless, of course, you’re just clicking links and aren’t actually reading, reflecting or digesting.

ISI’s Journal Impact Factor’s characteristics and methodology are well-documented. The journal impact factor has been well-studied and well-critiqued over the years.  It is so well-understood by the scientific research community that its rejection as a measurement (see here, and the recent DORA) has been greeted with widespread enthusiasm.

Now altmetrics need to be scrutinized with a similar kind of rigor along with a healthy dose of skepticism.  Or they run the very real risk of becoming altmetricks instead.