Altmetrics: Value all research products : Nature : Nature Publishing Group
"What a difference a word makes. For all new grant applications from 14 January, the US National Science Foundation (NSF) asks a principal investigator to list his or her research 'products' rather than 'publications' in the biographical sketch section. This means that, according to the NSF, a scientist's worth is not dependent solely on publications. Data sets, software and other non-traditional research products will count too. There are more diverse research products now than ever before. Scientists are developing and releasing better tools to document their workflow, check each other's work and share information, from data repositories to post-publication discussion systems. As it gets easier to publish a wide variety of material online, it should also become easy to recognize the breadth of a scientist's intellectual contributions. But one must evaluate whether each product has made an impact on its field — from a data set on beetle growth, for instance, to the solution to a colleague's research problem posted on a question-and-answer website. So scientists are developing and assessing alternative metrics, or 'altmetrics' — new ways to measure engagement with research output. The NSF policy change comes at a time when around 1 in 40 scholars is active on Twitter1, more than 2 million researchers use the online reference-sharing tool Mendeley (see go.nature.com/x63cwe), and more than 25,000 blog entries have been written about peer-reviewed research papers and indexed on the Research Blogging platform2. In the next five years, I believe that it will become routine to track — and to value — citations to an online lab notebook, contributions to a software library, bookmarks to data sets from content-sharing sites such as Pinterest and Delicious. In other words, to value a wider range of metrics that suggest a research product has made a difference. For example, my colleagues and I have estimated that the data sets added to the US National Center for Biotechnology Information's Gene Expression Omnibus in 2007 have contributed to more than 1,000 papers3, 4. Such attributions continue to accumulate for several years after data sets are first made publicly available. In the long run, the NSF policy change will do much more than just reward an investigator who has authored a popular statistics package, for instance. It will change the game, because it will alter how scientists assess research impact..."