ALTMETRICS AND THE MAJOR OF JUN: QUESTIONING (MY) EXISTENCE…

There are days when I think that I live in a kind of time warp, causing me to catch up with crucial matters for research with unavoidable delay. Thus, I have only learned about ‘altmetrics’ last week, via an email I received from their organization, when this seems to have materialized five years ago. What is ‘altmetrics’? Citing from their own web, https://altmetrics.org/about/, ‘altmetrics’ is “the creation and study of new metrics based on the Social Web for analyzing, and informing scholarship.” Oh dear…

If you read the “Altmetrics Manifesto” (https://altmetrics.org/manifesto/) of 2010, you’ll learn that the ‘alt’ in ‘altmetrics’ stands for ‘alternative.’ The manifesto explains that, as we all know in academia, peer reviewing, citation counting measures and instruments like JCR (Journal Citations Report), are failing to fulfil their purpose of helping to transmit sound knowledge and measuring its impact accurately. Peer reviewing is excruciatingly slow (it seems that also in science) and citations impact is open to manipulation.

Dr. Roger A. Brumback narrates in his article “Impact Factor Wars: Episode V–The Empire Strikes Back” (Journal of Child Neurology, 2009, https://jcn.sagepub.com/content/24/3/260.long) an interesting case. Two “clever scientists,” Harm K. Schutte and Jan G. Svec, members of the International Association of Logopedics and Phoniatrics (IALP) published an editorial in Folia Phoniatrica et Logopaedica (2007) citing “all 66 articles published in that journal” in the two previous years. Self-citation, Brumback explains, more than doubled the journal’s impact factor and helped the journal climb “9 places in the subject category of ‘Rehabilitation’ (which only contains27 journals).” I love it, by the way, that Brumback validates the impact of popular fictions (and its research) by basing his argumentation on Star Wars. Thomson Reuters plays the part of Darth Vader, we are all rebels against the Empire. I always knew Princess Leia is my girl!

The matters of altmetrics also includes what they call peer-review crowd sourcing: “Instead of waiting months for two opinions, an article’s impact might be assessed by thousands of conversations and bookmarks in a week.” There was indeed something called CrowdoMeter for a while (https://blogs.plos.org/mfenner/2011/12/20/crowdometer-or-trying-to-understand-tweets-about-journal-papers/) based on the idea that measuring tweets about journal papers gives a reliable indication of their impact. I have serious doubts that Twitter is the place to react to academic papers and there is, besides, always the risk that, as the manifesto acknowledges, altmetrics might reflect “just empty buzz.”

I understand, then, that so far this is a closed avenue and that the strategies to measure impact are still going in the current official direction. As an example, see the announcement I have just received today for the “Quartes Jornades sobre Gestió de la Informació Científica (JGIC-2015)” (https://blogs.iec.cat/observatori/jgic/jgic-2015/). The programme includes plenty on bibliometrics and institutional information systems but nothing directly on social networks, which is, well, odd, CrowdoMeter or not.

As a researcher, as I have been complaining here, I feel overwhelmed by the need to prove not so much my impact but my very existence. Although I have published plenty, not all databases acknowledge that I am alive and working as nobody, except myself, is providing information about what I do. And the task is never-ending. Recently, my university informed me, to my horror and consternation, that I don’t belong to any research group–I had not entered the corresponding information in our user-unfriendly computer application. Deep sigh because, as happens, I do spend much time keeping that updated. Also, as I have been narrating here, I’m using Academia.edu, my web, this blog and a Twitter account to publicise my work. I think it is working, more or less, but I feel daunted by the task of being my own community manager, as I don’t have the training. There are days, then, when I seriously doubt I can carry on the task of proving that I exist. The task of proving that I matter, if I do at all, is just too much…

This weekend I have met someone who has indeed no doubts that he exists and that what he does matters: José Antonio Rodríguez Salas, the Mayor of Jun. This is a town of about 3,500 souls next to the city of Granada, which is now famous for its Mayor’s indefatigable work in pursuit of visibility in the social networks. The Mayor’s project is to turn Jun into not just a smart town but one of the smartest on Earth, by making it as forward-thinking as possible in terms of current trends in communications and networking. His very popular Twitter account (@JoseantonioJun) has indeed placed Jun on the world map and you can even see a little blue bird on the façade of the Town Hall. When he announced that Jun would welcome any gay and lesbian couples wishing to marry, this caused an Australian minister to stage his wedding there… Just yesterday, he broadcast live on Twitter the counting of the votes for the Andalusian elections in Jun, a pioneering initiative for the sake of transparent democracy. So here is someone who fully understands social media (and a politician who knows what he’s doing). I just don’t have his energy…

The impact of computers in our lives is so immense that even though I spent my first years as a university teacher with no internet I cannot remember how on Earth I managed to work then. Internet must have been introduced in my university in 1995-6, for while in Scotland in 1994-5 I didn’t have an email account. I had been using pre-internet BBS (Bulletin Board Systems) for forums and chats pre-online since 1993, but the internet came later. The funny thing is that although I acknowledge the need to adapt to the new times and I try to catch up as best as I can, at heart altmetrics irritates me as much as bibliometrics and the attached citation systems. One thing is counting the downloads of my papers on Academia.edu or the digital repository of my university for my own reference; quite another matter reducing me to these figures, to the number of my followers on Twitter and to that of my blog readers. I never check that myself, as I don’t want to know. I don’t want to be, as I say, reducible to a set of figures and much less for what I do precisely to open up academic work to general readers beyond the official ways of measuring me up. Just let me be…

So my conclusion is a very existential one: I exist a little, and I matter (hopefully) a little. And I don’t want anyone to give the exact quantities of that ‘little’ something. I know full well, thank you very much, that other individuals matter much more. Yet, I think of the many millions whose lives will pass unnoticed by the social networks and whose lives will leave no trace and I conclude that, in the end, Twitter or not, altmetrics or bibliometrics, this is our most common destiny.

Comments are very welcome! (Thanks!) Just remember that I check them for spam; it might take a few days for yours to be available. Follow on Twitter the blog updates: @SaraMartinUAB. Visit my web https://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.