Altmetrics in Practice: A Case Study

DSC_0943This is a guest post contributed by Hui Zhang, Assistant Professor and Digital Application Librarian at Oregon State University Libraries. Hui discusses their experience of adding altmetrics into their Institutional Repository system. 

Altmetrics at Oregon State

The concept of altmetrics is already well known in libraries, and as more institutional repositories and publishers offer altmetrics to their scholarly content, more researchers are also becoming familiar with them. However, the controversy over how altmetrics should be used continues to be intensified rather than diminished: one opinion holds that the suites of impact-related indicators called altmetrics should be included in the package for scholarly impacts together with bibliometrics, but the opposite opinion states that altmetrics are not as reliable and accurate as more traditional bibliometrics, such as journal citations.

This blog post is about a case study at Oregon State University (OSU) Libraries, where badges have been added to journal articles deposited in ScholarsArchive@OSU from 2014 onwards. What’s highlighted in this report is feedback about altmetrics, collected from faculty members, and our thoughts on offering altmetrics as a library service.

The motivation of adding altmetrics in OSU’ IR is twofold: offering it as an incentive for depositing publications in IR, and promoting the use of new metrics for scholarly communication. These objectives made us decide that our implementation should demonstrate the “positive” impact of altmetrics in order to widen its adoption among faculty. In line with this, we have chosen to only display the badges on OSU article pages if there is altmetrics data to show (i.e., the Altmetric score is larger than zero). If there is no altmetrics activity, the badge does not appear on the article page. OSU Libraries also had a pilot test with the institutional edition of the Altmetric Explorer, which we used to find the articles that were attracting the most attention online at the time and notify their authors.


Screen Shot 2015-08-11 at 11.24.59


In a recent survey for all OSU faculty members about their perceptions of using web-based metrics (we did not to use the term altmetrics to avoid any possible confusion about its definition) as measures for scholarly impact, we have seen mixed opinions that give us a better understanding on the issues of altmetrics and how to proceed. First of all, some of the faculty members are enthusiastic about the new metrics with comments such as “I think it is an important factor that should be considered” or “It’s a good addition to more ‘traditional’ metrics”. However, we have to admit, the majority of the faculty indicated they are reluctant to adopt altmetrics as they are today, and raised the following concerns:

  • Definition: what do web-based metrics include and how the information is harvested?
  • Accuracy: usage statistics are not consistent or transparent on how it is collected such as whether web bots are excluded from downloads (side note – usage stats are separate from any data provided via the Altmetric badges)
  • Bias: books, book chapters, and some disciplines can be underrepresented in the web.
  • Correlation: capture (e.g., bookmarking) or mention (e.g., in social media) an article does not mean the researcher will cite that article later. Although there are numerous studies demonstrating that there is a correlation between altmetrics and bibliometrics in general, the strength of correlation varies significantly by the type of altmetrics (e.g., capture in Mendeley vs. mention in Twitter).
  • Gaming for attention: a popular or controversial research topic will probably attract much higher attention in social media but it should not be translated into quality and impact.

These concerns reveal the gap of trust towards altmetrics among scholars, which is not a surprise to many practitioners, and leaves a question for the librarians: how can we improve the situation?

The white paper released by the NISO (National Information Standards Organization) includes a list of 25 potential action items for the next phase of NISO’s altmetrics standard project, which should address the faculty’s concerns if what is proposed is implemented appropriately. However, even after the development of standards is completed in November 2015, it will be a long way for the standards to be adopted and implemented by different altmetrics service providers. So, they are huge opportunities for academic librarians to be involved with the development of altmetrics by spreading the support of altmetrics and defining the types and methodology of altmetrics with other colleagues.

For instance, librarians can help to identify the types of scholarly outcomes that are most applicable for altmetrics, work with IT department and altmetrics providers to improve the methods of data harvesting and metric calculation, and prompt the use of altmetrics via instruction. Here at Oregon State University libraries, the next step will be studying the possibility of making altmetrics available for thesis and dissertations deposited in the IR. Furthermore, OSU libraries also offer a variety of outreach activities to introduce altmetrics with a new online research guide and an altmetrics workshop targeting faculty and graduate students.

I believe the scholarly community will eventually accept the idea of using web-based information to indicate research impacts despite the doubt and uncertainty about it today. However, to make that vision a reality, it requires collaborations and understandings from all major stakeholders including academic librarians, educational organizations (e.g., NISO), and metrics harvesters such as

This year is flying by! The Altmetric team had a hugely busy Spring conference season and now it’s already time for us to get back on the road again. Over the next few months we’ll be running workshops, giving presentations, and meeting and greeting at events across the globe. A list below of where we’ll be – come say hello!

PKP International Scholarly Publishing Conference
11th – 14th August, Vancouver, BC
Digital Science reps Kortney Capretta and Adrian Stanley will be on hand to talk altmetrics and Altmetric at this year’s PKP conference in Vancouver. Don’t miss Kortney’s “Altmetrics in practice: making the most of your data” lightning talk on the morning of the 13th, or get in touch if you’d like to arrange a chat.

VIVO 2015
12th – 14th August, Cambridge, MA
Altmetric’s Stacy Konkiel will be running a workshop, “Altmetrics 101 – Hands on Introduction to Altmetrics” from 1pm-4:30pm on Wednesday the 12th. The workshop with give an introduction to altmetrics and access to some of the tools available so do be sure to stop by if you can, or drop Stacy a line if you’d like to meet up.

COPE North American Seminar 2015
19th August, Baltimore, MD
Betsy Donohue will be presenting: “ who, what, when, where and why” in the morning session. Betsy will be discussing the opportunities and limitations of metrics, including their potential for misuse or misinterpretation. Don’t miss out!

DNAdigest event: How can we incentivise best practices for data sharing in genomics?
21st August, London, UK
Altmetric Product Development Manager Jean Liu will be attending and presenting at this event, giving her take on how metrics and altmetrics can help provide feedback and incentivise sharing of big data.

ALPSP Annual Conference
9th – 11th September, London, UK
Altmetric Founder Euan Adie will be on hand at this year’s ALPSP conference – he’ll be presenting as part of the industry updates session on the Thursday and of course we’ll be there with our fingers crossed for Bookmetrix, shortlisted for the ALPSP innovation award!

7th Conference on Open Access Scholarly Publishing (COASP) conference
15th – 17th September, Amsterdam
Altmetric’s Head of Marketing Cat Chimes will be attending the COASP conference, where she’ll be presenting a poster exploring the difference in the volume and type of attention between OA and non-OA articles. get in touch with Cat if you like to meet, or come by the poster to say hello.

24th- 25th September, Switzerland
Euan will be attending and speaking at this event – make sure to see his presentation if you can, or if you’d like to meet just send us an email.

AIRI Annual Meeting
27th – 30th September, Washington DC
Altmetric’s Sara Rouhi will be on booth at the AIRI 2015 conference to introduce you to altmetrics and Altmetric! Get in touch with Sara if you’d like to arrange a time for a demo.

ARMS 2015
30th September – 2nd October, Singapore
Digital Science representative Anne Harvey will be at ARMS to run a pre-conference workshop: Implementing Research Metrics: Making Sense and Making use of the Data within your Institution. Register to attend the workshop or get in touch if you’d like request a meeting with Anne.

2:AM Altmetrics Conference
7th – 8th October, Amsterdam
Several members of the Altmetric team will be attending this event – there’s still time to register if you’d like to join us for a few days of lively altmetrics discussion and workshops!

Frankfurt Book Fair
14th – 18th October, Frankfurt, Germany
Altmetric COO Kathy Christian will be at the Book Fair with Digital Science representatives Adrian Stanley and Betsy Donohue. Get in touch if you’d like to arrange a time to meet to learn more about altmetrics and see a demo of our tools.

19th – 23rd October, Brisbane, Australia
Euan Adie will be attending and presenting at the eResearch Australia conference this year. His session “Challenges and opportunities of new metrics in research evaluationwill take place at 3:55 on Tuesday the 20th – don’t miss it!

Charleston 2015
4th – 7th November, Charleston, NC
Sara Rouhi will be attending Charleston on behalf of Altmetric this year – she’ll be speaking and running lots of sessions so stay tuned for further details. Do get in touch with Sara if you’d like to find out more or arrange to have a chat.

Metrics 2015 – ASIS&T Workshop on Informetrics and Scientometric Research
7th November 2015, St.Louis, Missouri
Altmetric’s Stacy Konkiel will be attending this event – and we and figshare are sponsoring an award for the best paper on research related to altmetrics or social media metrics, so get your submissions in now!

TAG Annual Conference
9th – 12th November, Los Angeles, CA
Sara Rouhi will be attending and flying the flag for Altmetric at the TAG 2015 event – stop by the booth for a demo or to find out more. As always do feel free to get in touch if you’d like to arrange a time to meet.

LITA Forum
12th – 15th November, Minneapolis
Stacy will be presenting at this event – be sure to stop by her session and do say hello if you see her.

RISe2015 conference
18th November, Newcastle, UK
Altmetric’s Ben McLeish will be attending this event – where Altmetric will be sponsoring an Impact in Progress award! Ben will be on booth and will give a short presentation introducing Altmetric and our tools.

To date, Altmetric has collected attention data for nearly 4 million research outputs. However, we sometimes receive feedback saying we have a lot more attention data for the sciences than for the humanities and social sciences. We’re also aware of a demand for more altmetrics for things like datasets, images, monographs and other forms of academic output – not just journal articles.

We’ve already taken steps in this direction – for example we track attention to any datasets or images with a scholarly identifier (such as those that get assigned a DOI via figshare), and have worked with organisations like the Biodiversity Heritage Library and Michigan Publishing to provide metrics for their non-article outputs.

The purpose of this blog post is to provide some insight into how we’re trying to improve and build on these initial steps, as well as providing some general commentary on the opportunities and challenges we and other altmetrics providers face when it comes to data curation.


Tracking other disciplines – challenges and opportunities

In a summary of the recently published HEFCE report on the role of metrics in research assessment, the researchers mentioned “highly variable coverage of metrics across subject areas” as a concern. It’s true that Altmetric do have more data for the sciences than for the humanities and social sciences – and that’s partly just because of how often and the way that people discuss these types of research online. One of the challenges of improving data coverage is that we’re dependent on the behaviours of others; tweets, facebook posts, news stories and blog posts need to exist in order for us to pick them up. We also notice that we pick up less mainstream news coverage for articles published in humanities journals, as it’s likely that an article from a theory-based humanities journal will not be communicated to the general public in the same way as (for example) an important medical discovery.

However, we have picked up extensive attention data for some humanities journals; the screenshot below (pulled from search results in the Altmetric Explorer) demonstrates that articles from the Journal of American History are consistently referred to in blogs (yellow), on Twitter (light blue), in mainstream news sources (red) and on Wikipedia pages (dark grey).

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 11.56.24

Recently, we’ve been working to add some more humanities and social sciences-based journals, so that we can start accumulating attention data for their articles. In the last month we’ve added a number of theology journals published by Equinox to the Altmetric database, as well as some law and economics journals published by Edward Elgar publishing. We’re also continually reviewing our list of sources and looking for ways of tracking sources that highlight and discuss research from all academic fields.


Tracking other types of research output

In some ways, it was logical for the altmetrics movement to focus on academic articles published in journals initially. By tracking articles, including those hosted on sites like arXiv and SSRN (which Altmetric have been doing for the last few years) we can provide data that can be used alongside traditional bibliometrics such as the Impact Factor, and can provide journal editors and authors with a way of benchmarking the attention their content attracts against other journals, and monitoring the online conversations around published research in real-time.

It’s important to remember that though that one of the other advantages of altmetrics is that they can be used to track online attention and influence for lots of different output types.

Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 14.00.17Software startups such as Figshare are very aware of these opportunities and have developed systems to help researchers get credit for all their research activities. When (for example) researchers attach Figshare DOIs to their datasets, conference slides, data visualisations and software packages, we accumulate attention data for those outputs as well as articles.

The same applies for other platforms such as Dryad, and in fact we now have the technology to track anything in an institutional repository based on a scholarly identifier OR a unique URI embedded in the metadata – such as a URL for a particular piece of content.

Adding the URI tracking support means that we can track online activity for any institutional or publisher generated content, such as press releases scripts, or anything hosted on the same domain (speak to one of our team if you’re interested to hear more about how you can make use of this!).Bookmetrix

Earlier this year, we successfully completed the Bookmetrix project with Springer. For this we collected online attention data, download counts and review snippets for each of the books and chapters hosted on the SpringerLink platform – combining traditional and non-traditional metrics together to enable the authors, readers and editors of those titles to access a record (updated in real time) of the online activity taking place around each title.

We’ll continue to experiment and investigate and expand on our approach to tracking non-article outputs, whilst paying close attention to ensure the relevancy of each source of attention depending on what the output is (book reviews for books, for example).


Why does this matter? 

Offering feedback and providing insight to authors of non-journal research outputs is a key objective of ours. Altmetrics hold the promise of enabling everybody, no matter what discipline or at what stage in their career, to get credit and be recognised for the work that they’re doing. Traditional bibliometrics provide little to support this, with traditional citations and Impact Factor bibliometrics focussing purely on journal-to-journal referencing.

Gathering evidence of the influence and reach of your work can be particularly difficult for early-career academics, who are keen to progress but have not yet had the time to accrue citations or establish themselves fully in their field. Altmetrics can provide them with evidence to uncover and demonstrate the broader impacts of their work to funding or hiring committees, and even just amongst their peers.

Everyone should get credit for the work that they do, and we think they should also be able to demonstrate the impacts of doing that work via the easiest route possible. Altmetrics are not the whole picture of the final answer, but they do provide a useful indicator that have the potential to help faculty across all disciplines understand and evidence how their work is being disseminated and interpreted.


Want to get involved? 

We’re always on the lookout for new sources and research outputs to track. If you’re a publisher with a list of humanities journals, and you attach unique identifiers to your articles, email to find out if we can start tracking your journals. If you’re a researcher with an interest in the humanities and/or social sciences, let us know about popular blogs and news sources in your field, so we can add them to our source lists. All we need to be able to start tracking a blog or news source is a working RSS feed.

In the meantime, we’ve got some other exciting things in development and hope to be able to roll these out more widely soon. As always, feedback is welcome, and we’d love to hear your thoughts on what we’ve been discussing here! Feel free to drop us a line or leave a note in the comments section below.

Talk to a researcher or librarian nowadays and they’re likely to tell you, “Scholarly communication has been revolutionized in the past five years.” (Whether they like it or not is another question entirely.) What does that mean exactly? How has scholarly communication changed?

Quite simply, scholarly communication has gotten greater: that is, it’s seeing greater openness, diversity, and engagement.

And while these “revolutions” in scholarly communication are by definition at odds with the status quo, the long term benefits of these changes are apparent. Let’s take a closer look.


Greater openness


Illustration CC-BY-SA OpenSourceWay

Increasingly, authors are choosing to publish their articles in Open Access journals, as well as in traditional journals that offer an Open Access publication option (also known as ‘hybrid OA’ publishing). One author survey even found that, in a single year, the number of researchers who published their work Open Access nearly doubled!

Journals are making the move to OA, as well. More and more traditional, “toll access” publications are experimenting with hybrid OA options, allowing authors to pay a fee to make their article open access in journals that would otherwise require a subscription in order to read. And 254 new titles were added to the Directory of Open Access Journals in the first quarter of 2015 alone. This move is, in part, due to a number of funding agencies recently enacting “public access” mandates in the United States, UK, and elsewhere in the world.

Contrary to popular belief, the push for Open Access isn’t only happening in the sciences, either. With the recent launch of the Open Library of the Humanities, the humanities–usually stereotyped as a field that’s resistant to OA–has seen increased support for OA publication models that are better suited to meet humanists’ needs than is the popular “author pays” model prevalent in the sciences.

In academia in general, there’s also been a push towards “openness” at all stages of the research lifecycle. Humanists and scientists alike are making their data, software, lab notebooks and research notes, posters, and conference talks openly available. And these open research outputs are appearing on platforms as diverse as data journals, social networks for open source software aficionados like GitHub, blogs and websites, IRs, and repositories like Figshare.

The advantages to increased this newfound openness are many: research done in the Ivory Tower is becoming more transparent to the public, it’s more quickly getting to the researchers and patients who need it, and it’s easier to correct the scientific record. It’s also making academia more diverse in some ways.


Greater diversity

Another sea change in scholarship comes in the form of diversity: namely, the increased diversity of research outputs (in particular, software and data) that are recognized as important as (and distinct from) journal articles and books. We’ve also seen calls to recognize the diverse “flavors of impact” that research can have, beyond what’s traditionally thought of as meaningful (lots of citations for work published in high impact journals or books published with prestigious university presses).

Research software has seen a boost in importance from the “code as research object” project, which allows programmers to archive their open source software on sites like Zenodo and Figshare, which then issue a DOI for the code (thereby making it possible for other scholars to more easily cite it). And research data has seen many similar initiatives (including DataCite, RDA’s work on data citation, and PLOS’s work on altmetrics for data).

But citations are not the only way to understand the influence of a piece of research software or data (nor of articles or books, for that matter). Other indicators, including views and downloads, installation statistics, adaptations (as measured by GitHub forks), discussions on research blogs, or number of collaborators can shine a light on how often a research object is read, remixed, or otherwise built upon to fuel discoveries beyond those for which it was originally created.

These indicators, called altmetrics, are also useful in that they’re much quicker to accumulate than citations. When considered alongside citations as complementary indicators of influence, impact, and attention, altmetrics can provide a much fuller view of the usefulness of a scholar’s work than citations alone can.

By helping researchers get the credit they deserve for making their work Open Access and Open Source, each of the initiatives described above is a step towards a scholarly ecosystem that values the work of all researchers, not just those who’ve gotten authorship credit on a paper.

Note: Diversity in terms of scholars’ genders and ethnicities has thankfully increased, too, but that’s outside of the scope of today’s post. If you’d like to learn more, I recommend:


Greater engagement

Illustration CC-BY mkhmarketing

Engagement is another important area in which scholarship has changed recently, particularly in the areas of engagement with members of the public and with other scholars, including those from other disciplines.

Researchers and their universities are increasingly looking to social media for opportunities for one-on-one engagement with members of the public, whether to broaden the public’s understanding of complex science or to share research with the community.

Scholars are also turning to social media daily to engage with each other. Nearly 50% of respondents to a recent Nature survey said they use Twitter to follow discussions related to research, and sites like and ResearchGate are popular venues to share one’s papers with peers. Recent studies even found that the number of scholars active on Twitter has risen from 1 in 40 in 2011 to nearly 1 in 3 in 2014.

With the increase in scholars using social media, as well as the increase of scholarship that’s been made openly available online, we’re now about to better track discussions of research on the Web. At Altmetric, we’re now tracking online discussions surrounding over 4 million diverse scholarly outputs. In fact, in the last month alone we counted 745,295 mentions of 175,295 research outputs!

Using tools like the Altmetric bookmarklet and, at a university level, Altmetric for Institutions, scholars are better able to find public engagement opportunities, measure the effects of their efforts, and document those engagements and broader impacts when applying for grants or going up for tenure.

Increased engagement has very real benefits here in the US and abroad. In the United States, any opportunity that researchers can use to better educate the public, lawmakers, and other stakeholders might help to also avoid catastrophes like “shrimp on treadmills” debate (wherein members of Congress lambasted the NSF due to their support of “frivolous” science). And in the United Kingdom and other countries, public engagement is just one aspect of “impact” that’s considered when doling out funding to universities.


What might the next five years look like?

While it’s difficult to make exact predictions about the future of scholarly communication, I do believe academia will continue to change for the better in many ways:

  • Better understanding: We’ll start to see more nuanced conversations about what “impact” really means, as well as an increased acceptance of more varied flavors of impact. As part of this, universities and funders will increasingly recognize metrics beyond citations, including altmetrics, some of which can showcase the “broader impacts” of research;
  • Better dissemination: Publishers will continue to experiment with new ways to make research consumable online, building on important work like eLife’s Lens and PeerJ’s PaperNow;
  • Better bottom lines for OA publications: Publishers, societies, and libraries will also invent and test new Open Access financial models like F1000 Research’s length-based article processing charge fees and Open Library of the Humanities’ “collaboration, not competition” funding model, moving academia away from the idea of “one size fits all” OA publishing; and
  • Better recognition: The many varied scholarly contributions of individuals will finally be recognized by the powers that be, whether it’s related to data curation, designing protocols, or scholarly service activities (which creates discrete important but currently undervalued outputs like peer reviews, blog posts, and so on). Perhaps we’ll even be more nuanced in our recognitions, seeing those activities as merely different from (not lesser than) traditionally valued scholarly activities. (Hey, a lady can dream! :) )

What are some of your predictions for how scholarship will change in the next five years? Leave them in the comments below!

Welcome to Altmetric’s “High Five” for July, a discussion of the top five scientific papers with the highest Altmetric scores this month. On a monthly basis, my High Five posts examine a selection of the most popular research outputs Altmetric has seen attention for that month.

The theme this month is shocking (and not-so-shocking) discoveries.



Tetrapodophis specimen. Credit: Dave Martill.


Paper #1. Four-legged fossil snake is a world first

Our top paper this month is “A four-legged snake from the Early Cretaceous of Gondwana,” published in Science on July 24, 2015. The study, authored by researchers based in the US, the UK and Germany, details the discovery of a fossil snake… with four legs.

The discovery of snakes with two legs has shed light on the transition from lizards to snakes, but no snake has been described with four limbs, and the ecology of early snakes is poorly known. We describe a four-limbed snake from the Early Cretaceous (Aptian) Crato Formation of Brazil. The snake has a serpentiform body plan with an elongate trunk, short tail, and large ventral scales suggesting characteristic serpentine locomotion, yet retains small prehensile limbs. – Martill, Tischlinger, Longrich, 2015

According to the Science editor’s summary of the study, this ancestor of today’s snakes, named Tetrapodophis amplectus, “appears to have been a burrower and shows clearly the early transitional stages from a lizardlike body plan to the smooth legless snakes we know today.”

The paper, shared by members of the public and scientists alike, received coverage from major news sources including CBS News, “Fossil shows prehistoric snake had four feet,” the Telegraph, “Four-legged snake discovered,” Wired, “Four-legged ‘hugging snake’ could be a missing link,” and the Washington Post, “Four-limbed, long-fingered snake hints at a creepy crawly evolutionary journey.” The discovered fossil of Tetrapodophis amplectus is about 110 million years old.

I thought, ‘Bloody hell, it’s got back legs!’ It had front legs. Nobody had ever seen a snake before with four legs, and yet evolutionary theory predicts that there should be an animal that is transitional between four-legged lizards and snakes, and here it was. – David Martill, study co-author, as quoted by Laura Geggel, LiveScience

The crazy part is that David Martill had this “Bloody hell” moment not in the field, but when he was looking closely at the unidentified fossil as he led a student group through the collections at the Bürgermeister Müller Museum in Solnhofen, Germany.

I looked closer and the little label said: Unknown fossil. Understatement! I looked even closer—and my jaw was already on the floor by now—and I saw that it had tiny little front legs! […] But no snake has ever been found with four legs. This is a once-in-a-lifetime discovery. – Paleobiologist David Martill, as quoted by Ed Yong, Not Exactly Rocket Science

Ed Yong did a fantastic job describing the implications of this fossil find in his blog post on the subject at National Geographic:

There are two competing and fiercely contested ideas about this transition. The first says that snakes evolved in the ocean, and only later recolonised the land. This hypothesis hinges on the close relationship between snakes and extinct marine reptiles called mosasaurs (yes, the big swimming one from Jurassic World). The second hypothesis says that snakes evolved from burrowing lizards, which stretched their bodies and lost their limbs to better wheedle their way through the ground. In this version, snakes and mosasaurs both independently evolved from a land-lubbing ancestor—probably something like a monitor lizard. Tetrapodophis supports the latter idea. It has no adaptations for swimming, like a flattened tail, and plenty of adaptations for burrowing, like a short snout. It swam through earth, not water.

The discovery of this four-legged snake is not without controversy, however. There is some debate over how the fossil came to reside in a private collection when it was identified as originating in Brazil, where the export of such fossils is generally illegal. Shaena Montanari, a writer who covers paleontology, dinosaurs and comparative biology, wrote in a July 24th Forbes article: “I am slightly surprised that Science allowed this to be published despite the fact the legality and provenance of this specimen can in no way be proven beyond a guess, albeit a very educated one.”

It appears that the technicalities surrounding the collection and discovery of this fossil are as intriguing as is the fossil’s implications for the history of snakes.

I think this creature is far more exciting for what it might be than for what [the team] says it is. – Michael Caldwell, vertebrate paleontologist, University of Alberta, as quoted by Sid Perkins for ScienceNOW


Credit: Brandon Motz,

Credit: Brandon Motz,


Paper #2. Insights into Sexism… via Video Games

Our next High Five paper was published in PLOS ONE this month, titled “Insights into Sexism: Male Status and Performance Moderates Female-Directed Hostile and Amicable Behaviour.” The researchers, Michael Kasumovic and Jeffrey Kuznekoff, used online video games to study gender-directed behavior. Gender-directed behavior of online gamers was prompted by the sound of another player’s voice (e.g. male or female voice).

We used an online first-person shooter video game that removes signals of dominance but provides information on gender, individual performance, and skill. We show that lower-skilled players were more hostile towards a female-voiced teammate, especially when performing poorly. In contrast, lower-skilled players behaved submissively towards a male-voiced player in the identical scenario. This difference in gender-directed behaviour became more extreme with poorer focal-player performance. We suggest that low-status males increase female-directed hostility to minimize the loss of status as a consequence of hierarchical reconfiguration resulting from the entrance of a woman into the competitive arena. Higher-skilled players, in contrast, were more positive towards a female relative to a male teammate. – PLOS ONE study

The study sparked headlines in several online news outlets, such as “Study: Online gaming ‘losers’ are more likely to harass women” in Ars Technica. Most outlets ran with the analogy that males who exhibit the most sexist behavior in online gaming environments are the “losers.”

Talk to women who play games online, especially first-person shooters, and you’ll quickly hear tales of them being bombarded with gender-focused harassment if and when they decide to speak up on a groupchat channel. Now, a new study suggests that the players most likely to engage in this kind of harassment are the ones who are actually worst at the game itself. – Kyle Orland, Ars Technica

However, a few of those writing about the study pointed out that Kasumovic and Kuznekoff have relatively little evidence to back up their claims that the sexist behavior seen from low-performing males is at its core an evolutionary response to threat. But the results themselves resonated with many of those writing about the study.

I prefer my gameplay without sexual harassment, but on any given evening that may not be in the cards when I hop online to play Call of Duty. I’ve learned to take these rare vocal assaults with a heavy sigh and the understanding that trolls are much like bullies: They harass others as a way to cope with their own insecurities. But I’ve always wondered why women always seemed to be singled out. Were their sexist remarks really of the same mentality as a bully; researchers say, in a way, yes. – Natalie Shoemaker, Big Think

More reading:


Possible layout of the quarks in a pentaquark particle. Image: Daniel Dominguez. Source: CERN press release.

Possible layout of the quarks in a pentaquark particle. Image: Daniel Dominguez. Source: CERN press release.


Paper #3. Pentaquarks

Our next High Five paper, a report from the European Organization for Nuclear Research or CERN published in Physical Review Letters, is difficult for the non-specialist to read. It details the sighting of an elusive subatomic particle called the pentaquark. Nature News reports, “an exotic particle made up of five quarks has been discovered a decade after experiments seemed to rule out its existence.”

The pentaquark is not just any new particle — it represents a way to aggregate quarks, namely the fundamental constituents of ordinary protons and neutrons, in a pattern that has never been observed before. Studying its properties may allow us to understand better how ordinary matter, the protons and neutrons from which we’re all made, is constituted. – Large Hadron Collider spokesperson Guy Wilkinson, via Nature News

The report got the attention of several online news and specialty outlets, including Smithsonian magazine, “What Is a Pentaquark and Why Are Physicists so Excited About It?” Quartz, “Scientists at the Large Hadron Collider have discovered an exotic new state of matter,” and Ars Technica, “CERN experiment spots two different five-quark particles.”

Pentaquarks are an exotic form of matter first predicted back in 1979. Everything around us is made of atoms, which are mode of a cloud of electrons orbiting a heavy nucleus made of protons and neutrons. But since the 1960s, we’ve also known that protons and neutrons are made up of even smaller particles named “quarks”, held together by something called the “strong force”, the strongest known force in nature in fact. – Gavin Hesketh, The Conversation

The discovery of a five-quark particle opens up many new questions, as detailed in many of the news reports of this particle sighting. What holds these quarks together, and how are the five quarks oriented and put together to form the pentaquark?

Scientists had a devilishly hard time finding these particles, even though they likely exist in high-energy settings, like dying stars collapsing to form black holes – or the moments just after the Big Bang. In 2013, tetraquarks were convincingly unmasked by two research teams. The pentaquark, however, has been a brutal tease. [Until now.] – Physics Buzz

More reading:


      More details Normal (left) versus cancerous (right) mammography image. Wiki.

Normal (left) versus cancerous (right) mammography image. Wiki.


Paper #4. Breast Cancer Screening: “The more we look, the more you find.”

Our next High Five paper sparked some debate online about the limited effectiveness and risks of breast cancer screening. The study, published in JAMA, examined 6 million women in 547 counties self-reporting to the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results cancer registries during the year 2000. The study authors, including researchers from Seattle, Harvard University in Cambridge, and The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice in Hanover, conclude:

Across US counties, there was a positive correlation between the extent of screening and breast cancer incidence (weighted r = 0.54; P < .001) but not with breast cancer mortality (weighted r = 0.00; P = .98). […] The clearest result of mammography screening is the diagnosis of additional small cancers. Furthermore, there is no concomitant decline in the detection of larger cancers, which might explain the absence of any significant difference in the overall rate of death from the disease. Together, these findings suggest widespread overdiagnosis. – JAMA study

The findings were picked up by several major news outlets and discussed in a variety of science and medicine blogs. Nancy Shute wrote for NPR’s shots: “Here’s more evidence that mammograms don’t always deliver the results that women want. They find more small cancers, but don’t lower a woman’s risk of dying of breast cancer, a study finds.”

This study shows that the more we look, the more you find. – Joann Elmore, M.D., as quoted by Nancy Shute, NPR


The trouble with overdiagnosis is that while the cancers doctors find wouldn’t have harmed their patients, the treatment and stress that result from the diagnosis probably will. – Julia Belluz, Vox

But some writers and cancer screening advocates took issue with the JAMA paper’s conclusions.

What’s clear from other published data (curiously omitted in this paper), is that rates of death from breast cancer in women fell during this same decade, 2000 to 2010, across the United States. I find it hard to reconcile the authors’ findings of a lack of change in incidence-based breast cancer mortality, whether or not women were screened in the two years before 2000, with the clear pattern of reduced mortality from the disease. – Elaine Schattner, Forbes, Why Women Shouldn’t Cower To Concerns About Overdiagnosis Of Breast Cancer

David Gorski at Science-Based Medicine provides an in-depth breakdown of the JAMA study and previous research on the effectiveness of breast cancer screening.


A native bumblebee, Bombus auricomus. Photo: S. Droege. USGS Native Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab.

A native bumblebee, Bombus auricomus. Photo: S. Droege. USGS Native Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab.


Paper #5. A world of change for bumblebees

Our last but not least top paper this month is a Science report titled “Climate change impacts on bumblebees converge across continents.” The internationally authored study tested for climate change-related shifts in bumblebee ranges. The authors found bumblebee losses at the southern range limits of these species, as southern species have shifted to higher elevations but failed to shift to more northern regions.

Responses to climate change have been observed across many species. There is a general trend for species to shift their ranges poleward or up in elevation. Not all species, however, can make such shifts, and these species might experience more rapid declines. Kerr et al. looked at data on bumblebees across North America and Europe over the past 110 years. Bumblebees have not shifted northward and are experiencing shrinking distributions in the southern ends of their range. Such failures to shift may be because of their origins in a cooler climate, and suggest an elevated susceptibility to rapid climate change. – Editor’s Summary

In other words, “It’s too hot for bumblebees in the south—and they’re not moving north,” according to a headline in Quartz. Numerous news outlets, science magazines and science blogs picked up the study to report on the narrowing range of bumblebees, with headlines such as “A Century of Data Reveal that Climate Change is Shrinking Bumblebee Ranges,” (IFLscience) and “A Smaller World for Bumblebees,” (The Scientist). Most media coverage of the study was straightforward in highlighting the findings as significant and robust.

Kerr compared the situation of bumblebees to a vice. He explained that as temperatures have warmed since 1975, many species of bumblebees are being forced into smaller and smaller habitats. On the southern ends of their habitat in Europe and North America, bumblebees are losing about 9 km per year (5.6 miles), and have already lost 300 km (about 186 miles). – Katherine Ellen Foley,

More reading:


graceEarlier this month the Biodiveristy Heritage Library announced that they had implemented the Altmetric badges across their online articles and other reference content. We spoke to Outreach and Communication Manager Grace Costantino to hear about the work the BHL does, and how they hope to make use of Altmetric data.

About the Biodiversity Heritage Library

The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) is a consortium of worldwide libraries, headquartered at the Smithsonian Libraries in Washington D.C. Launched in 2007, the BHL online resource site receives over 80,000 unique visitors a month, and currently includes over 46.6 million pages of natural history literature from from over 96,000 titles.

The library’s mission is to inspire discovery through free access to biodiversity knowledge; anyone in the world wherever they are should be able to make use of their content. Access to such information is a particular necessity to biodiversity-related sciences, as historical data and species classification underpins the work that scientists are doing today.

Why the interest in altmetrics?

In 2014 the BHL received an Institute of Museum and Library Services grant to transform BHL into a more social, semantic digital library. As part of this “Mining Biodiversity” project, they are further integrating with social media, enhancing search functionality, and improving their semantic metadata.

“We wanted to see where people were talking online about our content – and help our readers see those conversations too.”

Crucially, Grace and her colleagues are keen to find ways to make it easier for their audience to discover more info about their collections, and share thoughts and knowledge about those collections using social media. The first step they took to encourage this was to add better sharing buttons to BHL, but they also wanted to more easily capture the online conversations surrounding their content and let others see what people had been saying.


Although some of the BHL content is assigned a DOI, this is not consistent across all of their content. Grace and her team worked with Altmetric to instead track mentions to their content based on the URI (the unique identifier) of each piece of content.

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 11.33.00

BHL has now launched the Altmetric badges across their online platform, and are using the Altmetric Explorer internally to monitor and report on the online attention across their collection.

They also added an overview of the Altmetric data and what it offers their readers to their Wiki, helping users of the platform understand what the data shows and how it can be interpreted.

Up and running

Grace reports that the BHL are finding the Altmetric data really valuable for discovering conversations that they didn’t know were happening – particularly as lots of people will share a link to the content they are talking about but don’t necessarily mention the BHL, making this activity difficult to track by keyword alone.

To announce the roll-out of the Altmetric badges Grace and her team put together a program of blog and social media content, and will also include announcements in their newsletters and quarterly reports. Already they are using the Altmetric Explorer to identify what types of books are really popular with audiences, and making additional efforts to offer similar content.

“Through the Altmetric data we identified that our marine books in particular are really popular. Information like this helps us better tailor our posts and the content we share to ensure maximum engagement.”

With altmetrics providing an up-to-date measure of the success of their ongoing promotional and engagement efforts, in future the BHL hopes to use altmetrics to help determine ongoing outreach and engagement strategy to ensure the continued awareness and success of their valuable content.

Read more on the BHL blog.

Become an Altmetric Ambassador today!

Icinghower - Ambassador Program

We’re proud to announce the launch of the Altmetric Ambassadors program! We’ve debuted the Ambassadors program in response to requests to help researchers and librarians worldwide spread the word about altmetrics (in general) and (in particular) at their institutions.

A team of volunteer Ambassadors will:

  • Stay up-to-date with the latest altmetrics news and research

  • Host brown bags to introduce their colleagues to altmetrics and Altmetric’s tools

  • Show their colleagues how to explore the online attention surrounding their work using the Altmetric bookmarklet

  • Add Altmetric badges to their personal or lab web pages

  • Share their stories to demonstrate how altmetrics can help all researchers

In return, we’ll send you exclusive Altmetric swag, share top-secret development plans for Altmetric products, buy coffee and donuts any time you host an Altmetric-related workshop, and help connect you with a fantastic, international group of like-minded researchers and librarians.

Interested? Learn more and sign up here today!

Today we’re excited to release our new collection of teaching resources for you to use in your own Altmetric for Institutions training sessions. We’re often asked to share our training slides so we’ve created a CC-BY licensed collection for you to use in your own teaching.

We’ve designed the new teaching materials collection to include everything you need to run a successful Altmetric for Institutions session – from advertising online, posters to promote around campus and re-usable slides with explanations and hands-on activities.


Image by Andy Bright on Flickr

So what’s included?

  • Introduction to Altmetric for Institutions training slides with notes – [PowerPoint]
  • Workshop activities – slides with hands-on activities – [PowerPoint]
  • Workshop activities handout – [A4 Word] [US Letter Word]
  • Text for advertising your session online – [Word]
  • Tips & Tricks: promoting your research online – flyer for researchers – [A4 PDF] [US Letter PDF]
  • Poster to advertise your session around campus – [A4 Word] [US Letter Word]

See our Teaching Resources page for full details. The collection is CC-BY licensed so feel free to remix, reuse and share your training session materials afterwards – we’d love to see what you create.

And take a look at our new tutorial videos…

Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 11.10.12

Today we’re also launching our new tutorial videos so you can take a look around exploring data in Altmetric for Institutions and the Altmetric Details Page. Take a look:

  • Altmetric for Institutions: Navigating – find out more about Altmetric for Institutions with a walkthrough of our demo edition. We show you how to browse your institutional outputs, the summary report, access Altmetric Details Pages, view authors and departments, and expand to search across the entire Altmetric database.
  • Altmetric Details Page: We take you on a tour of the Altmetric Details Page to find attention data for a research output with a walkthrough of the Altmetric donut, sources tabs, help information and setting up email alerts for new mentions.

Feel free to embed in your help guides and share with researchers and support teams in your institution!

Here are our ideas for running a successful altmetrics training session at your institution:

  1. Plan ahead. Check your room setup, will attendees have access to PCs for hands-on activities or should they bring laptops? Or will it be more of a lecture setup? Do you have time for group discussion at the end to talk about the key learning points and altmetrics data you’ve covered during the session? Our activities slides are useful for hands-on workshops, and the Introduction to Altmetric for Institutions slides also offer a good introduction for both a workshop and a lecture-style presentation.
  2. Run a live demo of Altmetric for Institutions and get everyone to create an account – this will really help attendees get a feel for the database navigation, key functionality (exploring the data, filtering results, summary reports, author/departments, custom groups, exporting and saving etc.). See slides 21-30 of the Introduction to Altmetric for Institutions slide deck for key functionality to demonstrate.
  3. Emphasise the importance of looking beyond the score. It’s useful to highlight the value of considering the quality of the mention rather than focussing only on the score. The Altmetric score of attention is an indicator that a paper has received lots of attention. Take a look at some conversations surrounding your institutional research papers and discuss in your session. See slide 34 of the Introduction to Altmetric for Institutions slides for an example of a paper with a relatively low score but with a policy document mention that demonstrates how the journal article has contributed to NHS treatment guidelines.
  4. Cascade training and advocacy across library and training support teams and embed altmetrics in existing scholarly communications sessions (open access, bibliometric analysis, research data management, ORCID, etc.) This helps demonstrate how the Altmetric for Institutions service can be used alongside existing services to support research innovation.
  5. Discuss how altmetrics are part of a broader conversation. Share ideas for how researchers and support teams can use altmetrics data to broaden the view of research attention alongside existing analyses, e.g. traditional bibliometrics and funding awards etc.

Let us know if you create new materials you’d like to share or if there’s something you don’t see here but would find useful. Happy training!

TraceyWe spoke to Tracey DePellegrin, Executive Editor of the Genetics Society of America journals about their motivations and experience so far of integrating Altmetric badges across their journals.

As Executive Editor, Tracey is responsible for identifying new ways of author outreach, and was instrumental in driving this new program for their publications.


About the society

The Genetics Society of America has over 5,000 members from all areas of genetics and genomics. Alongside a busy conference and outreach program, they also publish two journals –Genetics, and the open access G3: Genes|Genomes|Genetics. The editorial teams of the journals are committed to the goals of the society; to further the field of genetics research and to encourage communication amongst geneticists worldwide. The content they publish is high quality and the society aims to position themselves as the voice of their members to policy makers.


Challenges and motivations

With a society founded in 1931, and Genetics first published in 1916, Tracey says that one of the challenges the journals sometimes face is being recognized as the innovative and forward thinking publications they are. In fact, GSA are often ahead of the curve in embracing new technologies and policies (for example, they’ve had an advanced open data policy, strictly enforced, for more than 5 years, and, along with Cal Tech, pioneered the use of article links to model organism databases in 2009).

The society are also keen to encourage their authors and readers to see value in content beyond the Impact Factor – although they are conscious that for some academics, particularly those in the far east, there are requirements that they publish in journals considered to be ‘high impact’. Tracey and her colleagues are keen to show and help their authors demonstrate other types of attention and engagement.

“Part of our responsibility to the community includes discussing all kinds of ‘impact’ – and helping authors to extend the short- and long-term reach of their research.”


A step forwardGSA

GSA first implemented altmetrics on their titles late 2013. They were keen to see what online attention their content was attracting – and, in line with the society’s aims, encourage their authors to actively engage with the conversations going on around research published in their fields. The response they had from their contributors has been enormously positive.

Tracey enthuses; “We LOVE Altmetric – because our authors do! Because citations are such a lagging indicator, they like being able to see a glimpse of who’s talking about their work – even as soon as it’s published early online. And because the social media data is retroactive, we even have some nice surprises.”

Screen Shot 2015-07-16 at 12.16.22

Internally, altmetrics data are being used by the GSA team to monitor their outreach efforts and help shape ongoing activities.

They regularly check in to gauge the attention that their early online articles are getting, and track to see what effect pushing out specific articles via social media has had.

“We LOVE Altmetric – because our authors do!”

Board reports are also benefitting from the additional context that altmetrics provide – they are now incorporating highlights of the online mainstream and social media coverage, including that which is not so positive, to help their teams get a better understanding of how their research is being received.
Board report  Board report


In one case, Tracey adds, altmetrics enabled them to quickly identify where an editorial they had published was being met with a negative response, and follow up with their own blog post to further clarify their position and address some of the feedback they’d received.

Working with Altmetric, Tracey reports, was an ideal solution for GSA. They are fans of the colorful donut graphic and see the insight Altmetric data offer as adding value to their journal content (currently hosted by Highwire).


What next?

In future, Tracey comments, they’re keen to extend their use of the data and the Altmetric donut visualisations – perhaps including them in email campaigns or using it to identify popular articles to showcase on journal homepages.

“In science, it’s so important to have discussions centered around new research. Altmetric helps us to figure out where the discussions are taking place, and to encourage a wider group to participate.”

Alongside that they’ll be continuing to educate their authors about altmetrics and how they can make use of them, and are determined to move the concept of impact and attention beyond just the numbers for genetics research as a whole. By providing an increasing amount of feedback and insight, Tracey and her colleagues hope to help their authors better understand who is discussing their work, and how it is being received.

We’ve got the leaflets, we’ve got the slides, we’ve got the website; but we wanted something extra special to help us spread the word of Altmetric for Institutions to the wider world. Today we’re excited to announce the release (technically, the world premiere) of Altmetric for Institutions: the movie. Fewer donuts than the Simpsons but hopefully equally punchy graphics – take a look and let us know what you think!


Making the video

We worked with online marketing company Distilled to take our idea from concept to a reality – and their creativity and design skills certainly help us along the way!

storyboardFrom the initial script they worked with us to flesh out the concept – drawing out mockupstoryboards, mocking up the design and feel of the final video, and running through a number of voiceover options before we settled on the final feel.

Crucially, we wanted to communicate the benefits that Altmetric for Institutions offers. As researchers are increasingly asked (by management, funders, project leaders, alumni donors) to demonstrate the impacts of their work, this new platform can help them track, monitor and report on early signs of engagement and influence.

Users can create custom groups to monitor the online attention surrounding specific projects, explore the entire Altmetric database to see how much and what type of mentions research outputs from their peer institutions and fellow scholars are receiving, and set up email alerts and reports to be regularly updated on the activity relevant to their work.

All of this data can be particularly useful for enabling more effective online reputation management (both of an individual scholar and an institution as a whole), reporting on evidence of attention, influence and engagement to attract research funding and alumni donations, and for helping to determine future research and outreach strategy.

We’ve already heard some great examples of how institutions are adopting and rolling out the platform, and look forward to hearing how these activities progress as more and more researchers become familiar with the altmetrics data and start to apply it as part of their teaching and career development.

Don’t forget to stay tuned to our YouTube channel over the coming months – we’ve already started adding some past presentations, and are planning to keep on updating it with lots of useful training and user videos to help you get the most from our data and tools!