Researchers are increasingly expected to demonstrate the “scholarly impact” of their work, for career progression or for approval by funding bodies. As such, they may refer to Altmetric scores and other online research metrics to show an up-to-date scientific presence rather than, or in addition to, the more conventional citation-based metrics that can take time to accumulate. There are many advocates as well as critics of the use of online metrics, but one of the more common issues discussed is whether they are open to abuse.
The Leiden Manifesto for Research Metrics proposes ten principles as a basis for “best practice in metrics-based research assessment”. For readers to interpret and understand metric-based measurements the processes used to make the calculations must be clear. Indeed, one of the ten principles of the Leiden Manifesto states “Keep data collection and analytical processes open, transparent and simple”. A recent Nature Index article explored cautions voiced by some regarding the “RG score”, used by the popular scholarly social network site ResearchGate, and concerns that the site does not fully disclose how the score is calculated. The RG score attached to a researcher’s profile “is a metric that measures scientific reputation based on how all of your research is received by your peers”. An article by Orduna-Malea et al has suggested that the RG score can be increased purely by joining scientific discussions on the site and as such may not truly reflect the scholarly reputation of the individual. The authors are keen to point out that they are not criticising “the score itself nor the general functioning of the ResearchGate platform.”
Online metrics can be useful and are certainly here to stay, and it should be noted that the RG score is not the only measurement that has come under scrutiny. Without full details, all measurements are open to misinterpretation. So perhaps this serves as a reminder to assess a range of different metrics and to keep an open mind if using them to assess academic reputation and influence.
Summary by Jo Chapman, PhD from Aspire Scientific