Altmetrics: An Introduction (Notes inspired by One Health-MLA ’13, Boston, 2013)

May 15, 2013 at 10:27 am | Posted in Professional Development | 1 Comment

Jason Priem speaks at about 100 words per minute and rarely stops to take a breath. So when I sat in on his talk, Altmetrics and revolutions: Web-native science and the future of scholarly communication, at the One Health meeting in Boston note-taking was impossible. But the information was riveting. Priem is all about altmetrics: alternative metrics of scholarly impact based on online use. It’s intriguing to me because in my 300+-year-old institution faculty and researchers are bound to the “publish or perish” treadmill. [I recently witnessed a leading clinician — a wonderful teacher and active to the gills in her field — perish because she had not published “the right things”. Frankly I was astonished at the lack of institutional insight into the value of this person based on this one metric.]

Priem deems that citation counting to document an author’s impact is outdated. Getting an article into publication is painfully slow, as is the citation counting which is the most widely used measure for its success. These days’ scholars are not restricting themselves to this to one mode of publishing, but are using diverse avenues for disseminating research and their daily work. Accordingly says Priem, scholarly impact metrics needs to reflect this diversity of avenues, going beyond the limits of journal article citations and reflecting online self-publishing modes. For instance, publications now appear in online repositories, blogs, and commentaries of existing works. Think about rapid reviews via PLoS (, or that favorite informative blog that you follow. Also think datasets, code, and experimental designs created by researchers that are available via open repositories to be accessed and used. For example NLM/NIH National Information Center on Health Services Research and Health Care Technology (NICHSR) (

Priem coins the phrase “altmetrics” as the new bibliometrics which will account for the impact of these “alternative” publishing avenues. Altmetrics will give credit for impact via usage (downloads and page views), as well as storing, linking, bookmarking, and online conversations alongside the traditional peer-review and citations. Altmetrics takes advantage of the speed of available influential information via these methods, as well as the subsequent speed of their referencing.

So how is altmetrics measured? Priem — along with his colleague Heather Piwowar and funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation — developed ImpactStory a web-based (open-source) tool into which researchers can load links to whatever they have published, traditionally or otherwise. An algorithm is applied and impact determined. As disclosed on their webpage, ImpactStory is in early development and is not without its limitations ( But it’s a brave new world out there and with it there is a whole new meaning to publish or perish!
These are the basics. To find out more here are a couple of things that you might want to follow up:

Thanks NAHSL for the opportunity to attend this highly informative meeting.

Janene Batten, MLS
Cushing/Whitney Medical Library, Yale University


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  1. Thank so much for this great recap, Janene. I wasn’t able to stay for all of Jason’s talk, so I really appreciate your take and the links you provide for further review. Altmetrics is definitely a new “hot topic.” My colleague, Lisa Palmer, spoke on the PLoS-sponsored panel at a different session. I’m glad that time, talent, and expertise were devoted to it during MLA. It’s something that we can all watch and, hopefully, become engaged with soon.

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