February 04, 2013

Measures of journal article quality?

Writing about web page http://techcrunch.com/2013/02/03/the-future-of-the-scientific-journal-industry/

The TechCrunch blog post linked to is by the founder of Academia.edu and it discusses the possible contribution that journal article metrics could make, to academic publishing.

In order to interpret readership metrics provided by sites/services like the three mentioned in that post, Academia, ResearchGate and Mendeley, researchers should ask, "what is the level and quality of activity on these sites?" My experience is that there are a lot of students amongst those "researcher" numbers advertised. Students can be readers too, of course, but we need to be clear about what the metrics are actually telling us. Activity and membership varies from one site to another and from one discipline to another, of course, so researchers would need to investigate for themselves. If you're investigating and interpreting for yourself then you're not going to be entirely comfortable with others using such metrics to make some judgement about the quality of your work!

My previous blog post was about publishers who display reader metrics. I wish I had time to investigate them some more!

Mendeley's metrics used to be available for others to use through an API: as ImpactStory, once called TotalImpact were doing. That seems to me to be the most useful model for researchers: then they can follow readership metrics for their papers from all locations. In my opinion, collated stats are great for researchers to track which activity affects their readership numbers most: their paper featuring on their mate's Twitter feed, or professor x's blog, or being delivered at a conference.

But are reader numbers going to lead to a new way of assessing a journal article's quality? They would need to be available from all sources where the article is displayed: publishers, repositories and networking sites would all need to count reader accesses in the same way, and share their data publicly, so that they can be collated and displayed in a reliable and consistent way. They would need to become trusted and used by the researchers themselves. That is going to take a lot of time and effort, I believe, if all the discussion about citation metrics and altmetrics that I've seen is anything to go by.

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