Meaningful metrics: a 21st century librarian's guide to bibliometrics, altmetrics, and research impact

Bibliometrics Libraries Publishers and publishing Research Open access United States of America


A few days ago, we were speaking with an ecologist from Simon Fraser University here in Vancouver about an unsolicited job offer he’d recently received. The offer included an astonishing inducement: Anyone from his to-be-created lab who could wangle a first or corresponding authorship of a Nature paper would receive a bonus of $100,000.

Are we seriously this obsessed with a single journal? Who does this benefit? (Not to mention, one imagines the unfortunate middle authors of such a paper, trudging to a rainy bus stop as their endian-authoring colleagues roar by in jewel-encrusted Ferraris.) Although it’s an extreme case, it’s sadly not an isolated one. Across the world, a certain kind of administrator is doubling down on 20th-century, journal-centric metrics like the impact factor.

That’s particularly bad timing because our research communication system is just beginning a transition to 21st-century communication tools and norms. We’re increasingly moving beyond the homogeneous, journal- based system that defined 20th-century scholarship.

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