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It was the most-accessed review ever to be published in any of the seven PLOS journals. The paper had come out just as biologists' interest in digital publishing was building and the number of tools was exploding, says Pettifer, a computer scientist at the University of Manchester, UK.
At one time Pettifer would have listed the paper on his CV accompanied by the journal's impact factor and the article's number of citations — in this case, about But when he came up for promotion this year, he realized that tracking citations was not going to tell the whole story about the paper's influence.
Impact factor is a crude measure that applies only to the journal, not to specific articles, he says; citations take a long time to accumulate, and people may not cite a paper even if it influences their thinking. So he added the number of views to the CV entry.
And he did not stop there. Next to many of the papers listed, Pettifer added labels indicating scholarly and public engagement. The labels were generated by ImpactStory in Carrboro, North Carolina, one of several services that gauges research impact using a combination of metrics — in this case, a wide range of data sources, including the number of times virginia hughes science writer seattle paper has been shared on social-media websites or saved using online research tools.
When Pettifer submitted his annotated CV for the first round of promotion review, his mentor expressed confusion. He does not know for sure whether the metrics helped, but he plans to use them on future grant applications. Outside the box 'Altmetrics', a term coined in by ImpactStory co-founder Jason Priem, refers to a range of measures of research impact that go beyond citations.
Several altmetrics services have emerged in the past few years see 'Four ways to score'. They produce reports that gauge impact by taking into account not just academic citations, but also digital use and sharing of data — which can include the number of times a paper has been tweeted, 'liked' on Facebook, covered by the media or blogs, downloaded, cited on Wikipedia or bookmarked online.
Some services also evaluate research products such as software, data sets and slideshows by tracking the number of people who have used or viewed the product online see Nature—; Altmetrics offer researchers a way to showcase the impact of papers that have not yet gathered many citations, and to demonstrate engagement with the public.
They can be accessed through journals or independent websites, and can track the impact of particular data sets or papers, or evaluate the combined influence of publications and products produced by multiple researchers in a department.
But these services must be used wisely. They are not meant for strict quantitative comparisons; nor do they always distinguish between positive and negative attention. And although scientists can include altmetrics in job and grant applications and annual reports, they must select relevant data and clearly explain the context to avoid provoking mistrust or confusion.
Some altmetrics services generate profiles that summarize the impact of a researcher's products. ImpactStory allows scientists to import lists of items such as papers and software from existing user profiles at websites such as Google Scholar, which automatically tracks a researcher's papers, or the online software-code repository GitHub.
A report pops up in the corner of the browser, providing altmetrics that include a score indicating how much online attention the paper has received.
The score takes into account the number of people who have read or mentioned the article, as well as the relative importance of the medium and the mentioner. Newspaper coverage is weighted more heavily than tweets, and tweets by individuals more heavily than those by journals promoting their content.
Many journals display some altmetrics on their sites automatically; these might be generated in-house or provided by an external service. Every article published by PLOS, for example, includes an online metrics tab showing data such as views, downloads and social-media mentions.
A feature called Article-Level Metrics Reports lets users search for PLOS papers by criteria such as author or keyword, and generates a summary metrics report for the set of results, including article usage by paper age and maps of authors' locations.
HighWire Press, an electronic-publishing platform at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, is collaborating with ImpactStory to add altmetrics to its journal websites.Science Writers, Unite! Virginia Hughes.
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