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Altmetrics – fancy feature or peer review’s successor?

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It is still quite a new phenomenon in scientific publishing, but the idea behind it is simple. When submitting your article online, you would like to know how many people have read it, how many people are talking about it, their opinions and whether your work is important to them. Altmetrics gives you the answer, as well as an opportunity to find out which articles are widely disputed in your field, and could therefore be of significance to you. Moreover, there are also some people who believe that altmetrics could replace the Impact Factor and even peer review.

The altmetrics term emerged in 2010 and may be understood as “metrics of impact alternative to standard citations level”. The term first appeared as a hashtag and its popularity is strongly tied to Twitter.The plural form of this noun is important because it describes a “pack of tools”, which can be as diverse as the ways of promoting scientific content are nowadays. A growing number of important discussions now occur on social media and blogs – generally speaking, outside of professional literature – and these venues react faster and are more flexible. So, the standard citation level is not altogether a sufficient way to assess if an article is worth your attention. Moreover, a significant amount of crucial information is not published in journals, but as notes, posters or raw data on the Internet. Theoretically, altmetrics aims to cover all of this, and therefore helps to track impact of new ideas and the people behind them.

The concept is well recognized and widely discussed, however implementations are rare. The majority of publishers who decided to use altmetrics, hired one London based company – Altmetric. The company offers software that generates (searching by DOI number) information about each paper’s usage on Facebook, Twitter, F1000, blogs and Google+, as well as its news coverage. Thanks to this software you can easily find almost every opinion that has ever been quoted about a given article. The system nowadays serves mostly to satisfy the curiosity of authors and their colleagues, however its appearance might encourage a higher demand for a new type of impact measure and a new way of rating scientific content. With altmerics you can quickly find out that some article was criticized on Facebook by a well-known researcher,and there is the possibility that one day this kind of opinion will be more important than two positive peer reviews, or even future citations.

There are also few social platforms offering altmeric services to their users, e.g. Plumx and ImpactStory, where you can sign up to track the influence of your work. It is necessary to mention the PaperCritic platform, which aims to use post publication reviews and social media feedback as a way to evaluate submitted papers because, as some authors believe, this is the way to open up science. What is the future for bibliometrics? We will see. The only thing for certain is that no type of metric will reflect true scientific value, and in the end we will have to read a lot anyway.

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  1. Could you elaborate on why altmetrics might replace peer review? I can imagine (open) peer review and altmetrics complementing each other very well, but not replacing. Altmetrics can tell you how much activity there is around a paper, but not what is being said.

    1. The tool by Altmetric company, which you can see at PNAS website for example, is also a tool to track post publication peer review. I mean it report a content of posts on analyzed article. What is more The Altmetrics manifesto declares “With altmetrics, we can crowdsource peer-review. Instead of waiting months for two opinions, an article’s impact might be assessed by thousands of conversations and bookmarks in a week.” Maybe this is a matter of naming, but people behind altmetrics are not only interested in numbers, so this is not only a bibliometric system, but also a review system (I dont know how good).

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