Thursday, April 19, 2012

... Open Access Will Open New Ways to Measure Scientific Output

The Next Revolution in Science ... 

Posted on April 19, 2012 by Tom Olijhoek

Open Access will not only change the way that science is done, it will also change the way that science is judged. The way that scientific output is measured today centers around citations. Essentially, on an author level this means the number of publications and citations of an author’s articles (author-level metrics). On a journal level, it means the average number of citations that articles published in that journal have received in a given time period (journal-level metrics).

For author-level metrics the Author citation Index has now been replaced by the H-Index that was introduced in 2005 by JE Hirsch. Here the criterion is the number of articles [n] that have received ≥ n citations at a fixed date. [snip]


The H-Index, Google Scholar metrics and the JIF are all rather good indicators of scientific quality. However, in measuring real-world impact they are seriously flawed. Think for a moment of how impact is felt for whatever random topic you can think of. Everyone of us  will consider the publication itself, but probably also downloads, pageviews, blogs, comments, Twitter, different kinds of media and social network activity (Google+, Facebook), among other things. In other words, all activities that can be measured by “talking” through social media and other online activities can be used to give a more realistic impression of the real impact of a given research article. Since talking about articles depends on actually being able to read the articles, this is where open access comes into play.  The use of the proposed kind of article-level metrics only makes sense when many people are being able to discuss the actual content of published articles, which in turn is only possible when articles are open access. The optimal conditions for using altmetrics would be when articles would all be published as open access, but even with the current growth of open access published papers the method is already starting to make sense.

A number of article-level metrics services are currently in the start-up phase. A company called Altmetric is a small London-based start-up focused on making article level metrics easy. They do this by watching social media sites, newspapers and magazines for any mentions of scholarly articles. The result is an “altmetric” score which is a quantitative measure of the quality and quantity of attention that a scholarly article has received.

[snip] Finally, Total-Impact also makes extensive use of the analysis of social media and other online statistics, to provide a tool to measure total impact of a given collection of scientific articles, datasets and other collections. Their focus on collections represents still another approach to the problem of evaluating scientific output.

The previous overview is probably far from complete, so please feel free to add other possibilities in your comments to this post. However, I do think that the description above is an accurate reflection of the fact that the field of bibliometrics is moving fast and that Open Access will provide the key to the development and implementation of better ways to evaluate scientific output. Compared with the current practices, all of which are based on citations only, the inclusion of altmetrics plus online usage statistics and post-publication peer-review in an open access world will represent a true revolution in the way that science is perceived by all, scientists included.

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