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Measure for Measure: Altmetrics (June 2017): Stepping Back—Research and Assessment

By Beth Juhl

Stepping Back—Research and Assessment

Blaise Cronin (former editor in chief of the Journal of the American Society for Information Science & Technology) and his coauthors and colleagues at Indiana University and around the globe continue to contribute important research articles on developing measures of scholarly impact. Think an anthology of previously published articles on bibliometrics sounds as dry as day-old toast? Try a taste of Scholarly Metrics under the Microscope, ed. by Blaise Cronin and Cassidy R. Sugimoto—a hefty tome that appears completely daunting but tempts with some of the most accessible, thoughtful essays from the last few decades, including contributors’ clever titles such as “Bibliometrics as Weapons of Mass Citation,” “No Citation Analyses, Please, We’re British,” and the forthright “Sick of Impact Factors.” While Scholarly Metrics looks backward and only touches briefly on newer measures such as the h-index as applied in Google Scholar Citations, Cronin and Sugimoto’s volume with newly contributed essays, Beyond Bibliometrics: Harnessing Multidimensional Indicators of Scholarly Impact, includes a section on altmetrics and developing fields such as the intriguing “academic genealogy.”

National academies, funding agencies, and government oversight groups are searching for meaningful methodologies to assess the research contributions of institutions and individuals. As mentioned above, the NISO Alternative Metrics Initiative launched in the US in 2013. In the UK, a 2015 report commissioned by the Higher Education Funding Council, The Metric Tide, by James Wilsdon et al., surveyed the current landscape, reviewed types of metrics available, and discussed the challenges facing consumers of those new metrics. The Metric Tide led to the formation of an organization and website, Responsible Metrics, which has not been updated in some time; sadly, their proposal for a “Bad Metric” award does not seem to have been realized, although a Twitter hashtag, #ResMetrics, carries on the conversation. In Europe, SURF, a collaborative organization for technology in higher education, produced the provocatively titled Users, Narcissism and Control, by Paul Wouters and Rodrigo Costas, which presents a hopeful look at new technologies but concludes that new measures fail to normalize data across disciplines and need to be more transparent about their data sources and depth of coverage.