Altmetric Blog

The top altmetrics research is impressively Open Access!

Stacy Konkiel, 26th October 2017

The altmetrics journal article with the most online attention ever was published open access in PLOS ONE. I don’t think that’s a coincidence!

When research is made openly available online, more people can read and debate it. That helps to raise the profile of the research, meaning an article’s altmetrics’ (and its Altmetric Attention Score) will inevitably rise!

There are a number of ways you can legally make your research available online–so-called gold, green, and bronze OA. (For definitions, check out an excellent preprint recently written on the topic.)

In this post, I look at the top 50 articles in the Altmetric Explorer database that have “altmetrics” in the title or abstract to learn what percentage of high-profile altmetrics research is openly available online–an interesting question for OA Week!

Overall, Altmetric has 215 journal articles with “altmetrics” in the title or abstract, which have collectively been mentioned over 5,400 times across the 11 of the attention sources we track.

To find the OA status of the top 50 articles–as determined when sorting the articles by Altmetric Attention Score in Altmetric Explorer (seen above)–I exported the attention data for the entire dataset.

An easy way to find out if an article is freely available online can be done by looking at the Altmetric CSV export to see if we know of any versions of the article available in PubMed Central, ArXiv, or in a repository (indicated by the presence of a identifier):

Of the top 50, four were freely available on PubMed Central, two were self-archived in an institutional repository, and nineteen were self-archived on ArXiv. So, on first pass, 50% of articles were Open Access–not bad at all!

For the remaining 25 articles, I looked up their OA status using Unpaywall, which could in theory catch instances of self-archiving in places that Altmetric doesn’t track.

Unpaywall is a browser extension built by our friends at Impactstory, which uses the service (also created by Impactstory!) to look up whether an article is a) published Open Access, b) self-archived Open Access, or c) made freely available on a publisher’s website (not quite the same things as published fully Open Access, in that it’s not available in perpetuity).

It’s easy to use: just visit an article on the Web and click the Unpaywall browser extension. An icon will appear on the right hand side of your browser window that clearly indicates whether Unpaywall has found an OA version of the article:

Image CC-BY Impactstory/blog

Here’s what I found out about the OA status of the remaining 25 altmetrics articles, thanks to Unpaywall: 15 were published open access; 1 was made “free to read” by the publisher but was not officially open access; 1 was self-archived by the authors; and 8 were sadly locked away behind paywalls.

In total, an impressive 19 (38%) of the top 50 attention-getting articles on altmetrics were published open access and 23 (46%) were self-archived. That means that 42 (84%) of the top 50 articles on altmetrics are OA! Only 8 articles (16%) were published in toll access journals and not self-archived in a place that Altmetric or Unpaywall track.

I’m sure there are other interesting insights to be had! You can play around with the data yourself: I’ve archived the full 215 article dataset on Figshare.

With that, Altmetric’s bloggy celebration of Open Access Week 2017 comes to an end. We’ve enjoyed sharing our company’s Open Access experiments, research, and ponderings with you! Until next year!


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