Are we using the right metrics?
As a young academic, I am reliably informed that the landscape of scholarly communication is not what it was 20 years ago. But, despite all that has changed, it seems that we still largely rely upon the same tired and narrow measures of quality and academic impact – namely, citation counts and journal impact factors.
As someone who has used the internet in almost every aspect of their academic work to date, it’s hard for me to ignore the fact that these mechanisms, in predating the web, largely ignore its effects.
Increasingly, many of our scholarly activities are transferring to the web. We write academic blogs; the backchannel of conferences is played out through Twitter; and reference managers such as Mendeley manage a library of close to 100 million papers for more than 1 million academics. All of this activity indicates impact. What is more, because it is on the web, we can observe and measure it.
In assessing impact, we can and should take advantage of these emerging traces of scholarship – but to do so requires us to broaden both what we measure and how we measure it.The “alt-metrics” community has recently emerged in an effort to achieve this. Complete with a manifesto – at altmetrics.org – this community is striving to understand and measure the products and practices of scholarly communication on the web. It is called “alt” because the practitioners are looking to move beyond the citation-based measures of impact that have dominated the quantitative study of scholarship to date.