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Concerns raised about the interpretation of altmetric scores

Christian Gumpenberger, Wolfgang Glanzel and Juan Gorraiz have recently published an article looking at the rapid rise of the altmetric phenomenon, and highlighting their concerns regarding the general acceptance of altmetric scores as a measure of scientific impact.

Altmetrics gather together all the attention that a research article has generated online including through social media “chatter”, blogs and news outlets. An altmetic score is then generated, providing a composite quantitative measure of this attention. The score provides a quick way to identify the effect a piece of research has had within the scientific community as an alternative to citation-based metrics. However, Gumpenberger et al outline a number of concerns they have regarding the generation of altmetric scores, which fall under the following areas:

  • Transparency of the score calculation
  • Normalisation and standardisation
  • Data consistency
  • Completeness of data sources
  • Stability and reproducibility
  • Interpretation of the score

The authors are worried that altmetric scores could be open to misuse and may be used to rank articles, people and institutions and imply a measure of research quality rather than online activity. While altmetric scores can be used to raise one’s profile within one’s field, as with all new phenomena, the authors advise that caution is needed. They highlight that it must be ensured that such data are interpreted correctly and not used out of context or abused.

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Summary by Jo Chapman, PhD from Aspire Scientific.

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