"This shows that research can go viral, too"

Subject:  Multidisciplinary
Social network

Research support librarian Neus Milán gives us the scoop on a pilot study devised to measure the impact of UOC scientific production on social media.

All these publications – a tweet, a Facebook post or even a blog entry – cite articles in which UOC researchers have participated. The Library and Learning Resources team has conducted a pilot study based on alternative metrics, also known as altmetrics, to analyse the impact of scientific articles on social media. The team member running the project, Neus Milán, explains the ins and outs of the study.

What are altmetrics exactly?

Altmetrics are quantitative indicators that measure the impact of publications on social media and are presented as alternative or complementary metrics to traditional impact indicators. In line with the principles of the DORA Declaration, we cannot base the quality of all research solely on the Journal Impact Factor, a quantitative indicator based on the total number of citations received by journals over a specific time period.

What are the main advantages of altmetrics over other indicators?

They are immediate and go beyond academia, a world populated solely by experts. Any individual with an interest in research can read a scientific article and post a tweet. We cannot dodge the fact that we live in a digital and global world and that social media can reach any location; it is an extremely powerful medium for research dissemination and visibility. Research cannot be left in a drawer; it has to be accessible to everyone. However, I also think that disseminating articles must not be to the detriment of research quality; researchers must focus on researching. 

What methodology have you applied in this pilot study?

When analysing the impact of research on social media there is still no consensus or standardized methodology. We decided to analyse articles with an open-source software tool called Webometric Analyst , which was developed by Wolverhampton's Statistical Cybermetrics Research Group. This programme recovers data related to an article from the altmetric.com platform using its unique identifier, the DOI. In total we recovered data from 268 articles by UOC authors, published between 2016 and 2017, in order to obtain a snapshot of their impact on social media.

What are the main results of the study?

All the hypotheses we made are consistent with our results. We observed that publishing in well-positioned, quartile 1 or 2 journals in impact rankings such as the SCImago Journal Rank [ts9] and the Journal Citation Reports gives greater visibility on social media. Furthermore, the best-positioned articles are in open access. This makes sense because people who do not belong to the academic world only have access to the results of open access research.

What is most striking about the results?

I was surprised by the excellent results of certain articles on social media, even where the author had not undertaken any specific actions to disseminate them. For example, Neural Basis of Video Gaming, in which professor Diego Redolar participated, has had an incredible impact. It ranks among the top 5% of articles with the greatest international impact on altmetric.com.

Could altmetrics be an alternative solution to assessing research?

Altmetrics could be complementary indicators for analysing one dimension of research's impact, but they are of no use in assessing its quality. They could also help decision-making for science communication and dissemination by using metrics to determine strategy.