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University of Houston: How to navigate 'altmetrics' in your innovative research project

There are a few things to remember about altmetrics when tapping into non-traditional methods of metrics reporting. Graphic byMiguel Tovar/University of Houston

Alternative metrics, or “altmetrics,” refers to the use of non-traditional methods for judging a researcher’s reach and impact.

Being published in a peer-reviewed journal is surely a great feat. It’s the typical way professors get their research out there. But the tools established to measure this output might end up giving the skewed impression about an author’s impact in spheres both academic and social.

Traditional metrics

Web of Science and Scopus are the main platforms that researchers rely on for collecting article citations. Web of Science’s indexing goes back to 1900, and Scopus boasts the largest database abstract and citations. The caveat with these repositories is that each resource only gives you a rating based on the range and breadth of journals it indexes. Different journals are recorded in different tools, so you may not be getting a comprehensive metric from either.

Let’s talk about h index

The h index is probably never going away, although it is always being improved upon.

An h index is a complex equation that tells the story of how often a researcher is cited. For instance, if a scholar published six papers, and all six papers were each cited by at least six other authors, they would have an h index of 6.

This equation doesn’t work out too well for an academic who, say, had one paper that was continuously cited – they would still have an h index of 1. Brené Brown, Ph.D., even with her veritable empire of vulnerability and shame related self-help has h index of 7 according to Semantic Scholar.

On to altmetrics

When a psychology professor goes on a morning show to discuss self-esteem of young Black women, for instance, she is not helping her h index. Her societal impact is huge, however.

“When I use altmetrics to deliver a professor his or her impact report, I seek out nontraditional sources like social media. For instance, I check how many shares, comments or likes they received for their research. Or maybe their work was reported in the news,” said Andrea Malone, Research Visibility and Impact Coordinator at the University of Houston Libraries.

Altmetrics aim to answer the question of how academia accounts for the numerous other ways scholarly work impacts our society. What about performances done in the humanities, exhibitions, gallery shows or novels published by creative writers?

Alternative metrics are especially important for research done in the humanities and arts but can offer social science and hard science practitioners a better sense of their scope as well. With the constant connections we foster in our lives, the bubble of social media and such, there is a niche for everyone.

The equalizer

For some, Twitter or Facebook is where they like to publish or advertise their data or results.

“When altmetrics are employed, the general public finds out about research, and is able to comment, share and like. They can talk about it on Twitter. The impact of the work is outside of academia,” said Malone. She even checks a database to see if any of the professor’s works have been included in syllabi around the country.

Academia.edu is another social network offering a platform for publishing and searching scholarly content. It has a fee for premium access, whereas Google Scholar is free. Its profile numbers are usually high because it can pick up any public data – even a slide of a PowerPoint.

The Big Idea

At the University of Houston, altmetrics are categorized thusly: articles, books and book chapters, data, posters, slides and videos. While one would think there’s no downside to recording all of the many places academic work ends up, there are a few things to remember about altmetrics:

  1. They lack a standard definition. But this is being worked on currently by the NISO Alternative Assessment Metrics Initiative.
  2. Altmetrics data are not normalized. Tell a story with your metrics, but don’t compare between two unlike sources. Youtube and Twitter will deliver different insights about your research, but they can’t be compared as though they measure the same exact thing.
  3. They are time-dependent. Don’t be discouraged if an older paper doesn’t have much to show as far as altmetrics. The newer the research, the more likely it will have a social media footprint, for example.
  4. They have known tracking issues. Altmetrics work best with items that have a Digital Object Identifier (DOI).

So have an untraditional go of it and enlist help from a librarian or researcher to determine where your research is making the biggest societal impact.

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea. Sarah Hill, the author of this piece, is the communications manager for the UH Division of Research.

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Building Houston

 
 

A new report says Houston “is poised for further growth” in life sciences. Photo via Getty Images

Houston is receiving more kudos for its robust life sciences sector.

Bayou City lands at No. 13 in JLL’s 2022 ranking of the country’s top 15 metro areas for life sciences. JLL says Houston “is poised for further growth” in life sciences.

Here’s how Houston fares in each of the ranking’s three categories:

  • No. 12 for supply of life sciences-oriented commercial real estate
  • No. 14 for access to life sciences talent
  • No. 15 for life sciences grant funding and venture capital

Earlier this year, Houston scored a 13th-place ranking on a list released by JLL competitor CBRE of the country’s top 25 life sciences markets. Meanwhile, commercial real estate platform CommercialCafe recently placed Houston at No. 10 among the top U.S. metros for life sciences.

JLL applauds Houston for strong growth in the amount of life sciences talent along with “an impressive base of research institutions and medical centers.” But it faults Houston for limited VC interest in life sciences startups and a small inventory of lab space.

“Houston is getting a boost [in life sciences] from the growing Texas Medical Center and an influx of venture capital earmarked for life sciences research,” the Greater Houston Partnership recently noted.

Boston appears at No. 1 in this year’s JLL ranking, followed by the San Francisco Bay Area, San Diego, Washington, D.C./Baltimore, and Philadelphia.

Last year’s JLL list included only 10 life sciences markets; Houston wasn’t among them.

“The long-term potential of the sector remains materially unchanged since 2021,” Travis McCready, head of life sciences for JLL’s Americas markets, says in a news release.

“Innovation is happening at a more rapid pace than ever before, the fruits of research into cell and gene therapy are just now being harvested, and revenue growth has taken off in the past five years as the sector becomes larger, an atypical growth track.”

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