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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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Patrick Sullivan of Oceanit joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share the potential he sees for Houston's energy ecosystem to transition efficiently. Photo courtesy of Oceanit

On an island almost 4,000 miles away, a company is creating research-based tech innovation that's sending ripple effects across the Pacific Ocean to Houston's energy ecosystem.

While Oceanit, founded in 1985 by Patrick Sullivan, is based in Hawaii, a portion of its customer base is based right here in Houston.

“We are, indeed, in the middle of the sea, but we work around the world,” Sullivan, who serves as president and CEO of his company, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. “What we do in Houston is interesting because we consider Houston the center of energy. And energy makes the world go around, and there’s just no two ways around it. Of course, there’s lots of transition going on, so it’s an exciting time to be doing energy.”

In fact, realizing how much business opportunity there is in Houston, Oceanit recently opened H2XCEL — short for “Hydrogen Accelerator” — locally, aiming to integrate hydrogen into the current energy infrastructure.

H2XCEL will be the only lab in the U.S. capable of testing hydrogen and methane mixtures at high temperatures and pressures. Its aim is to protect pipelines from hydrogen embrittlement — when small hydrogen molecules penetrate pipe walls and damage the metal, potentially causing cracks, leaks, and failures.

The facility acts as a demonstration opportunity for Oceanit to test and show how hydrogen could be transferred via existing infrastructure.

"We can test to failure right there in Houston," Sullivan says on the show. “We’re talking to all the pipeline companies about getting their steel pipe and running through all these tests to show how it’s going to perform with all these different mixtures."

“The idea is to get the community to see that when you integrate technology from different fields into the energy space, we can keep making progress,” he continues.

Hydrogen embrittlement prevention is just one piece of what Oceanit's team is working to find solutions for. Sullivan describes his company as a 'Mind to Market' approach to industry. His business model includes some venture capital backing, but he says he prefers to partner with customers directly, explaining that the type of technology Oceanit deploys takes time and customization. This corporate co-development, as he explains, is Oceanit's unique approach to disruption.

There are so many opportunities within the energy transition to innovate, as Sullivan says, and it's not just one thing that's going to move the needle. The transition will require many different types of tech.

"It’s going to take time," he says. "But if we start reducing carbon and the use of fossil fuel today, we buy time for the planet."

Sullivan shares more on his company's unique approach to innovation on the podcast. Listen to the interview here — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

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