Let’s go metric

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The world of publication and academic life is full of metrics- ways of assessing quality and whether targets are being met. As a head of an academic school I have a series of deliverables and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) to achieve, all of which makes life interesting. When publishing we keep an eye on journal impact factors and increasingly for processes such as the Research Excellence Framework in the UK and for academic promotions, we need to be aware of how often our papers are cited by others and to determine our H-indices and I10 values.

Journal editors have the same obsessions. Regular readers of this blog will have picked up a certain degree of pleasure from JHND at the announcement of the new journal impact factors and this was just the culmination of a concerted campaign focused on quality. By being more selective about what we publish and increasing the standard of our output, the papers in the journal are cited more often by other authors. More citations means a higher impact factor, means a better reputation for the journal, means more submission of good papers, means more citations, etc, etc.

So citation is a metric dear to my heart, both as a researcher and as an editor. We live in a changing world though and there are new ways to communicate and spread the word about published research. Information flows at amazing speed and the days of old where the length of time between a paper being published and all key stakeholders having the chance to read it was counted in months or even years are long gone. For the modern researcher papers are viewable on line for months before they are actually ‘published’ and having citations before formal publication is not unusual. For our journal papers are readable through Early View within a few weeks of acceptance. At that point we tweet the fact that it is available (via @JHNDEditor) and so a chain of exchanges occurs. We have over 1000 followers on Twitter and if just 10 of those retweet the link we can reach 10000+ people with information about a paper. We also blog about the new paper and that way the news hits LinkedIn and Facebook. Importantly this means that research reaches an audience quickly and it isn’t necessarily the traditional academic audience. For us that is really important. We publish articles that, are in part, aimed at health professionals. Reaching that group through social media may be far more impactful than the usual academic route. For example, we recently published BDA guidelines on irritable bowel syndrome. These are intended for use in practice.

So back to the metric side of things. We have a relatively new metric to pay attention to, called Altmetric. Altmetric records the number of times each paper that is published is talked about through non-academic channels. Essentially it picks up when papers are referenced on Twitter, Facebook, news outlets and when it is read through reading apps such as Mendeley. Moreover it also shows who is tweeting, who is talking about it and where they are in the world. This makes it a useful tool for publishers as it gives a good indication of which papers are making news and getting lots of social media attention. This is also good for researchers as they can get information about how well their work has been received instantly, without having to wait months to years for citation data. Again, knowing where the reactions are coming from and what people are saying can be incredibly valuable.  I only discovered through Altmetric that one of my own papers in JHND had been picked up by a Canadian health news website aimed at health professionals and students on health professional courses.

No doubt more new metrics will appear over the next few years. Personally I strongly welcome them as a means of monitoring success in the information age. However, whilst I would admit to occasionally spending a hour updating the citation metrics in my cv and checking out my H index, I doubt that I will give much time over to following these online conversations.

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