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Publication Metrics: Altmetrics

Altmetrics are statistics sourced from the social Web that can be used to help you understand the many ways that your work has had an impact with other scholars, the public, policy makers, practitioners, and more. They are useful supplementary measures of impact, best used in tandem with traditional measures like citation counts. Together, the two types of metrics can illustrate the full impact of your work. Isn't it nice to see your work used in major news sources, blogs, government policy documents, Wikipedia, and social media?

Altmetrics in Academia

Academia has an incentives problem

Today's scientists are recognized not necessarily for doing high-quality research, but for publishing articles in "high impact" journals. ("Impact" being judged by the journal's impact factor.) Important parts of the research process--generating data, writing software, communicating findings as widely as possible--are ignored, abandoned, and hidden from public view because they're not taken into account for tenure & promotion or grants.

In this academic environment--which tends to ignore crucial contributions to research beyond the journal article or book and uses clumsy measures like journal impact factors to approximate the quality of individuals' work--researchers face a difficult decision: do what's best for one's own career or do what will advance one's field (and benefit the larger public). That's where altmetrics comes in.

Altmetrics can reward better research practices

Altmetrics are measures of research impact that supplement citations. They allow researchers to better understand how their work is being discussed, shared, saved, read, and reused by other scholars and the public--thereby broadening the definition of "impact". Altmetrics allow researchers to focus less on what journal they've published in and more on the effects their studies are having on other scholars and the public.

Altmetrics are sourced from many web services: PubMed, Mendeley, Twitter, research blogs, and more. They allow researchers to track not only the impact their papers and books are having, but also if their research software is being downloaded and installed, if their data is being reused, if their presentations are being seen by other researchers beyond the conference walls, and so on. Altmetrics also tend to expose the qualitative data that underlie the numbers, so researchers can see not only how often their work is discussed online, but--more importantly--what others are saying about it.

Altmetrics are somewhat controversial

Though an increasing number of researchers are choosing to use altmetrics to understand their impacts, altmetrics do have some critics. Some traditionalists argue that scholarly impact is the only type of impact worth measuring. Other critics argue that we should do away with impact metrics (including citations and journal impact factors) altogether, as they are too easily misinterpreted and misused.

These arguments are shortsighted. Public engagement is important to many scholars' careers. Funders and university administrators are increasingly requiring researchers to document their outreach and engagement initiatives, as well as the "broader impacts" of their work. Concerns about the misuse of metrics are understandable. But the solution is not to do away with metrics altogether. The solution is to improve the way metrics are used in academia, through careful, impartial outreach and education.

  • Like citations, altmetrics are measures of attention, not quality. Altmetrics is still a relatively young field, and research is still needed into the motivations that cause others to bookmark, share, blog about, and otherwise discuss scholarship online. But the inclusion of ratings and peer-review services like F1000, Publons and Pubpeer into altmetrics services means that we now have easy access to what other scholars are actually saying about each others' work, and--in some cases--how they rank that work on its merits. That said, much more research is needed before any accurate measures of quality can be confidently used.
  • Altmetrics are meant to supplement citations, not replace them. Citations still hold a place of high esteem in academia, and rightly so. They tell us a lot about the scholarly attention that research has received, more than altmetrics alone ever could. Instead, citations and altmetrics are meant to complement each other, with each measure telling us something about research impact that the other measure cannot.
  • Altmetrics can tell you the "Who" and the "What," in addition to the "How many". Altmetrics aggregators offer an easy way to find the all-important contextual information of a mention online. In a single place, they can gather the full-text of hundreds (sometimes thousands) of tweets, blog posts, newspaper articles, and other mentions, shares, and bookmarks your work has received online.

Altmetrics have a number of advantages over citations and citation-based metrics, including:

  • Speed of accumulation (citations take months or years to accumulate; altmetrics data can be gathered as-it-happens)
  • Breadth of impact (citations only measure scholarly impact; altmetrics measure impact among scholars, the public, policy makers, practitioners, and more)
  • Diversity of research products (citations can only measure the impact of articles, books, and sometimes research data; altmetrics can measure the impact of these products plus software, videos, slides, posters, figures, and more)

Altmetrics Content Credit: ImpactStory / CC BY

People tend to cite, tweet, blog, bookmark, and view work that they can access online. So start sharing your work!

Here are some places you can share your work:

  • Articles, Books & Book Chapters: publish with open access journals or university presses, or archive your work* on subject repositories (ArXiv, SSRN, PeerJ Preprints, BioRxiv), general repositories (Figshare & Zenodo), and your Duke institutional repository DukeSpace
  • Data: general repositories (Figshare & Zenodo) and subject repositories (ICPSR, PDB, TreeBase, KNB, and more) offer both discoverability and preservation services for research data
  • Software: GitHub is a popular software development platform that interfaces with Figshare and Zenodo to archive issue DOIs for software; Bitbucket and Sourceforge are also used to share software
  • Slides: Slideshare, Speakerdeck, and Figshare
  • Posters: Figshare, Zenodo, and your Duke institutional repository DukeSpace
  • Videos: Vimeo, Youtube, and Figshare
  • Figures: Figshare, Flickr, and Instagram Peer Reviews: Publons, PubPeer, and ScienceOpen ​

* Before publicly posting your articles and books, be sure you have the rights to do so. More information on your rights as an author can be found on the SPARC website.

*Also see more about the Duke Open Access Policy where in March 2010, the Duke University Academic Council adopted an open access policy that applies to all Duke faculty members and, unless individual authors choose to opt-out, provides Duke a license to make scholarly articles authored by Duke faculty freely available via a Duke University Libraries repository known as DukeSpace.

An increasing number of researchers are using altmetrics to help document the varied impacts of their work in their CVs, tenure & promotion dossiers, and grant and job applications. 

TIP: When using altmetrics to document your impact, keep in mind that context is very important for making the numbers you list meaningful. So, rather than include raw counts of your article's metrics:

Author, A. (2015). "Title." Journal name. doi:10.000/10.100x
Citations: 4 / Twitter mentions: 21 / Mendeley bookmarks: 91 / Blog mentions: 12 should provide contextual information that communicates to your viewer how your paper or other research output has performed relative to others' papers/outputs:

Author, A. (2015). "Title." Journal name. doi:10.000/10.100x
Citations: 4 - listed in the 98th percentile of Biology research published in 2015 on Impactstory.
Other impact metrics: listed on as being in the 96th percentile of papers published in Journal name and the 87th percentile of papers published in 2015.
International impact: this paper has been mentioned, bookmarked, or viewed in at least 43 countries, according to Impactstory.

TIP: Qualitative data is also a good way to provide context for the attention your work has received. You can find full-text mentions of your work using altmetrics services, and include them in your website, CV, or dossier like so:

Author, A. (2015). "Title." Journal name. doi:10.000/10.100x
Paper covered by more than 100 media outlets worldwide, including The Wall Street Journal and The Guardian.
Recommended on 12 research blogs, putting it in the 99th percentile of Biology publications published in 2015. Was described as "a breakthrough study on examples" by prominent genetics and evolution researcher Rosie Redfield.

Using in CVs & Resumes

Ethan White, Ecology, Utah State University

Scott Ross, Conservation Biology, Oklahoma State University

Screencap of a resume that includes the statement "Paper ranked #62 globally on Altmetric 2013 top 100 of academic research"

Marie Soressi, Archaeology, Centre Archéologique d'Orléans/Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

Researchers can embed Altmetric badges for free on a personal website or online CV. This is just another way to demonstrate the reach of your work to visitors. Learn more here.

And finally, check out these other altmetric tools and apps.