This guest post is contributed by Fernando T Maestre. Fernando is a Professor in the Biology and Geology Department of the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, in Móstoles (Madrid, Spain). In this post he talks about how he has been using altmetrics data to supplement his funding proposals and impact reporting:
Some months after I wrote a tweet about how I was using alternative metrics of the impact of my research outputs (altmetrics hereafter) in my proposals, I was contacted by Cat Chimes from Almetric, who asked me if they could use it as an example about how researchers are using altmetrics. Soon after that I wrote a brief post in my lab´s blog about this topic; this post was also noticed by Chris Woolston, who wrote a piece for Nature on the interest of funders on altmetrics to measure the impact of the research they pay for. If you are interested in this topic and you have not done so yet, I would encourage you to read Dinsmore et al. (2014).
As an extension of my previous post, here I show how I have use altmetrics in my research proposals, as this may help other researchers interested in doing so. While I am not going to provide an in-depth discussion here on what altmetrics can do or why you should use them (there are already plenty of excellent posts, articles and discussions on this topic), I will also provide some personal thoughts on why I found these metrics useful and why it is a good idea to include them in our proposals or research reports. So far I have used altmetrics in two proposals and a prize nomination I submitted in 2014, which were successful in all cases.
In the first proposal, submitted to the Humboldt Research Award of the Humboldt Foundation in Germany, I had to describe five relevant publications. I included several measures of the impact of these publications, including altmetrics. Here is how I did it (note that the numbers correspond to the moment I prepared this application, in February 2014):
1. Maestre, F. T. et al. 2012. Plant species richness and ecosystem multifunctionality in global drylands. Science 335: 214-218.
“This study presents the first set of analyses of a global network of dryland sites (224 from all continents except Antarctica), which has been led by Dr. Maestre as part of his European Research Council-funded Starting Grant BIOCOM (http://goo.gl/u9H8tH). While many experiments have suggested that biodiversity enhances the ability of ecosystems to maintain multiple functions, such as carbon storage, productivity, and build-up of nutrient pools (multifunctionality), this study was the first in evaluating the relationship between biodiversity and multifunctionality in natural ecosystems at a global scale. Its main finding was that multifunctionality was positively and significantly related to species richness; the best-fitting models used accounted for over 55% of the variation in multifunctionality, and always included species richness as a predictor variable. The results of this work suggest that the preservation of plant biodiversity is crucial to buffer negative effects of climate change and desertification in drylands, which collectively cover 41% of Earth’s land surface and support over 38% of the human population. Some indicators of the relevance of this article and its impact among the scientific community are the number of citations it has received so far (55 and 90 according to ISI´s Web of Science and Google Scholar, respectively), which have made it be named as a “Highly cited” article by ISI, and the three evaluations received from Faculty of 1000 (F1000) members, which have rated it as a “Must read”/ “Recommended” article (http://goo.gl/cLa4gl). This study has also been widely discussed in the social media, as indicated by an Altmetric score of 50, which makes it scoring higher than 98% of its contemporaries and includes it into the top 5% of all the articles tracked by Altmetric (more than 1,660,000; see http://goo.gl/aNVUUk for details). In addition, this work has been featured by newspapers, magazines, web pages and blogs from around the world (see http://goo.gl/JrJ4EY for a selection of news).”
2. Delgado-Baquerizo, M., F. T. Maestre, et al. 2013. Decoupling of soil nutrient cycles as a function of aridity in global drylands. Nature 502: 672-676.
“Using the network of sites deployed in the framework of the BIOCOM project, this study reports a negative effect of aridity on the concentration of organic C and total N, but a positive effect on that of inorganic P, in dryland soils worldwide. Aridity was negatively related to plant cover, which may favor the dominance of physical (i.e. wind-blown sands that abrade exposed rock surfaces) over biological (i.e. litter decomposition) processes. The results of this study indicate that the predicted increase in aridity with climate change by the end of this century will uncouple the C, N and P cycles in dryland soils, thus negatively affecting the provision of key ecosystem services by drylands, such as the buildup of soil fertility and carbon fixation. This article has attracted lots of attention from scientists since its publication, as it was the object of a “News & Views” in Nature (Wardle, 2013, Nature 502: 628-629), and has been viewed more than 6300 times since its publication two months ago (see http://goo.gl/EuHYOv for details). This article has also been widely discussed in the social media, as indicated by an Altmetric score of 151, which makes it scoring higher than 99% of its contemporaries and includes it into the top 5% of all the articles tracked by Altmetric (more than 1,730,000; see http://goo.gl/f3fu3A for details). This study has also received substantial attention by newspapers, magazines, web pages and blogs from around the world (see http://goo.gl/CU2hSR for a selection of news).”
Similarly, and as part of my application to the Consolidator Grants program of the European Research Council (who just funded my BIODESERT project), I had to present a section on “Early achievements track-record”. Within this section I included key publications with the number of ISI Web of Science® [Google Scholar] citations (excluding self-citations) they have accrued, as well as with their altmetrics. For the two publications presented above, here is how I did it (note that the numbers correspond to the moment I prepared this application, in May 2014):
1) Maestre, F.T. et al. 2012. Plant species richness and ecosystem multifunctionality in global drylands. Science 335: 214-218. IF = 31.027; 62  citations. This article has received three evaluations from Faculty1000 members, has an Altmetric score of 49 and has been featured in more than 100 newspapers, blogs and online news outlets.
2) Delgado-Baquerizo, M.*, F.T. Maestre et al. 2013. Decoupling of soil nutrient cycles as a function of aridity in global drylands. Nature 502: 672-676. IF (2012) = 38.597; 2  citations. This article has an Altmetric score of 149, and has been featured in more than 100 newspapers, blogs and online news outlets. * graduate student I have supervised
Finally, as part of the nomination package for the “Miguel Catalán” prize for scientists under 40 years, awarded annually by the Regional Government of Madrid (“Comunidad de Madrid”), I had to comment on three relevant scientific articles I have published. I included altmetrics when describing the “impact” of these publications as I have shown above in the example of my Humboldt Research Award application (the full application for the Miguel Catalán prize was written in Spanish, so I will not reproduce it here).
I found particularly useful using altmetrics for those papers/research products (such as databases) that have been published recently, as they provide a nice way to showcase the “impact” of research outputs before they start to accrue citations. Whether there is a correlation between altmetrics and citations is a matter of ongoing research and discussion, with poor correlations observed so far (Thelwall et al. 2013, Costas et al. 2104 and Peters et al. 2015), but high scores of the Almetric “donut” indicate that your research is being noticed (and thus is likely to be used in the future) by the research community.
Perhaps more importantly, it is becomingly increasingly crucial that our research gets the widest dissemination as possible, regardless whether your lab budget comes from a public or private funder. Indeed, the dissemination beyond the traditional scientific “circuit” (articles, scientific meetings, workshops…), and particularly among the general public, is now a requisite for funding agencies and foundations worldwide. Social media provide excellent opportunities to disseminate our work beyond our peers, and thus almetrics provide a very nice way of measuring the “impact” of scientific activities among a wider audience. I do not see altmetrics as a replacement of more traditional measures of “impact”, such as the number of citations or the h-index, among other reasons because there are many scientists that have not fully embraced social media (including myself, as for example I am not a Mendeley reader yet….). However, the capabilities of altmetrics make them a good complement to these more traditional “impact” metrics.
If you have suggestions about how to use altmetrics in your research proposals or reports, please send me a tweet (@ftmaestre) or e-mail, I would love to hear them.
Costas R, Zahedi Z, Wouters P (2014) Do altmetrics correlate with citations? Extensive comparison of altmetric indicators with citations from a multidisciplinary perspective. arXiv:1401.4321. doi: 10.1002/asi.23309
Dinsmore A, Allen L, Dolby K (2014) Alternative Perspectives on Impact: The Potential of ALMs and Altmetrics to Inform Funders about Research Impact. PLoS Biol 12(11): e1002003. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1002003
Peters I, Kraker P, Lex E, Gumpenberger C, Gorraiz J (2015) Research data explored: Citations versus altmetrics. arXiv:1501.03342.
Thelwall M, Haustein S, Larivière V, Sugimoto CR (2013) Do Altmetrics Work? Twitter and Ten Other Social Web Services. PLoS ONE 8(5): e64841. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0064841