Cassidy Sugimoto
Cassidy Sugimoto
Assistant Professor, Indiana University
Source: iunewind/iStockphoto
Source: iunewind/iStockphoto

The altmetrics manifesto, published in 2010 by Jason Priem and colleagues, argued for a new type of metric to capture the diversity of  the contemporary scholarly system—making manifest both the heterogeneity of scholarly output and the impact of scholarship on  science and society alike. As stated: “Altmetrics expand our view of what impact looks like, but also of what’s making the impact.”  Priem defines altmetrics as the “study and use of scholarly impact measures based on activity in online tools and environments” and  lists blogs, microblogs, reference management systems, and data repositories as potential sources.


There has been a proliferation of activity around altmetrics since this introduction, spurred in no small part by the growing emphasis of  funding agencies on the demonstration of impactbeyond academia.” Scholarly metrics have never been without criticism; however,  the expansion of data and sources and the increased use for evaluation have brought renewed concern around the ethical principles  of research metrics.


Here are some of the particular challenges facing altmetrics, including the misappropriation of the term impact, the narrow scope of focus, and the potential goal displacement of scientific activity:


The term impact has been readily and regularly adopted into the altmetrics discourse. Altmetric.com—a start-up measuring online activity of scholarly journal articles—claims to measure attention, but asserts that publishers can “showcase research impact”, institutions can have a “richer picture of their online research impact”, and researchers can monitor “personal research impact.” Similarly, the tagline of Impactstory—a non-profit focused on aggregating individual-level altmetric data—urges you to “Discover your impact today.” Scientometric studies have followed suit—regularly employing the term impact when discussing altmetric measures. This is in keeping with hallowed traditions within science evaluation—the simultaneously reviled and revered Journal Impact Factor (JIF) continues to reign over scientific publishing and, in doing so, makes metonymic the relationship between citation counts and impact. It is no far stretch, then, to equate new metrics of scholarly attention with impact.


This seems, however, a great distortion of the meaning of impact. Does the act of tweeting evoke an image of forcible contact? Does a save on Mendeley represent the strong effect of an article on the user? The term impact connotes far greater engagement and transformative effect than is currently justifiable with altmetric data. A more persuasive claim is that what is captured are metrics of attention of a scholarly object—the nature of this attention is something much more complex and far less understood. One can easily find examples of extremely high Altmetric.com scores which are the result of a viral joke, proofreading error, or scientific hoax. Behind these outliers are undoubtedly scores of articles whose recognition in policy documents, popular press, and on social media is a legitimate sign that the work is relevant and interesting to a broader public. How to identify the underlying mechanism of altmetric attention remains a critical challenge.


Understanding the mechanisms and motivations of altmetric attention is hampered by the inability to accurately identify the public upon which altmetrics is effecting change. The notion of a mythical science-tweeting-lay-public is persistent in the narrative, yet absent from empirical studies. In a recent study of tweets to journal articles from PLoS ONE, PNAS, Science, and Nature, we identified more than a third of those tweeting links to scientific articles as holders of doctoral degrees—far exceeding the proportion of doctoral degree holders in the general population. Knowledge about who is generating traces of attention is a necessary factor in establishing the credibility of altmetrics.


Another challenge is in the realization of the expansive goals of the altmetric movement. The promise of altmetrics was a broadening of measures of impact that took into account all the various ways in which scholarship is produced and disseminated. However, most altmetric studies have focuses exclusively on journal article metrics from relatively few platforms. While it is laudable to demonstrate the attention an article is receiving from these sources, it is a far cry from the foundational message—that is, that scholarship is no longer confined to “slow rigid formal communication systems.” Where are the metrics that capture the cacophony of scholarly activity? Researchers and practitioners must think creatively about the types of scholarship which remain hidden, despite the valiant efforts of the altmetric movement.


Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, is the concern of goal displacement—an inevitable byproduct of the promotion of altmetrics. Campbell’s Law states the issue most precisely: “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.” Libraries have begun to incorporate altmetrics into institutional repositories and to provide guidance to researchers on how to document altmetrics on their CVs for the purposes of promotion, tenure, and merit evaluation. The underlying assumption is that an article has more worth if it has a higher altmetric score and, by extension, a scholar‘s worth increases as more articles receive mention. One might argue that review of scholars is more nuanced and that reviewers would not fall prey to such gross misinterpretation of data. However, as those who have studied citation analysis or sought publication in a high JIF journal can attest, numbers are persuasive to evaluators examining dozens of dossiers.


The scientific community, administrators, and policy makers should take care lest we let the tweet become the end in itself: topics should not be chosen for their potential to go viral, nor should scholars spend inordinate time managing their reputations online. Altmetrics should be harnessed not to replace any existing metrics, but rather to expand the tools available to demonstrate the diffusion of science. Responsible use of altmetrics requires that we diligently seek to understand the underlying mechanisms of measures of attention, expand our ability to capture the diversity of traces of scholarly activity, and realize that attention is not impact.

Make a (mission) statement

Posted Jun 23, 2015
    Diana Macri
Diana Macri
Assistant Professor, Hostos Community College

shutterstock_115614919_271800311_271800312_256224451 (1).jpgIn October of last year, the United States heard of the academic scandal at the University of North Carolina where, over the course of 18 years, students received credit for African-American studies courses without having to show up for class, complete assignments or take any tests. What makes this incident particularly hard to swallow is the person at the center of the controversy, Professor Jan Boxill.

Boxill was a tenured philosophy professor and former director of the Parr Center for Ethics at UNC. An irrefutable and staggering (in their number if not in content) string of emails confirmed her complicity in helping athletes remain academically eligible to play sports.

Ask the average person what ethics is and they’ll likely refer to it as a set of moral principles or values. But what are these moral principles and who gets to decide which ones are more important than others?

Even among those who believe they know ethics, there is not total agreement on the meaning of the terms that are used. Ethics are standards of right and wrong that prescribe what humans ought to do; principles such as veracity, courage, integrity, forthrightness, consistency, creativity, humility, altruism, quality, accountability, excellence, compassion, innovation, social justice, wisdom, kindness, trust, balance and fairness. This is in relation to themselves, to each other, to other species and to the environment.

The challenge for most lies not in finding consensus on the principles that are most important, but in remaining loyal to them. By reminding us of what we value most, personal mission statements help us to resolve the various ethical dilemmas we face every day.

Where ethics comes from

Our most fundamental attitudes about what is right or wrong are taught to us by our parents. Religion, life events and education all play a part in those attitudes as well. These factors shape not only our values but our ability to adhere to those values when we are tested.

When I teach professional ethics, one of my major goals is to assist students in reaching an awareness of their own moral perspective. Most of my students are unaware of what their moral perspective is.

This is not due to their youth; most adults are not aware of what exactly is guiding their decisions, and that alone undermines their ability to behave ethically. I guide them in creating a personal mission statement to help them understand their moral perspective.

Creating a personal mission statement

Most people have heard of mission statements as they relate to organizations.

Companies have corporate mission statements designed to provide direction and inspiration to the organization. A company’s mission statement serves as a reminder of what the goals for the organization are. A mission statement explains the organization’s reason for being and answers the question, “What is it that we want to do?”

A personal mission statement is a bit different from a company mission statement, but the fundamental principles are the same. Writing a personal mission statement offers one the opportunity to establish what’s important and helps reinforce it when tested.

Stephen Covey in First Things First: Understand Why So Often Our First Things Aren’t First (Fireside, 1994) refers to developing a mission statement as “connecting with your own unique purpose and the profound satisfaction that comes from fulfilling it.” A personal mission statement helps a person identify their core values and beliefs. It’s a synopsis of what you’re all about and wish to be. It’s your definition of success.

Crafting a personal mission statement will take some time, introspection and self-awareness. The first part of the process is to let go of the past and whatever failures and disappointments have occurred.

What we perceive as negative experiences, or failures, are actually the things that have taught us the most. We must accept our shortcomings in the past in order to behave better in the future.

To craft a strong statement, you must be honest with yourself about what it is that you are and what it is that you want to be. I tell my students to “dream big” when they are thinking

of the core components of the statement. Ask yourself:

• What is the most important thing in my life?

• Who are the most important people in my life?

• What contributions do I want to make?

• What talents do I possess?

• What makes me happy?

• What core values are most important to me?

There are also Web-based sources that can help you craft your personal mission statement. The Franklin Covey link (http://www.franklincovey.com/msb/) directs you to answer a series of questions. Once you have answered all the questions, it will automatically condense your answers and allow you to save them and/or copy and paste. Use this as a template for your personal mission statement. Add and remove sections as you wish. Elaborate the sections you feel most strongly about.

It will take time

A personal mission statement is meant to be created once and it usually takes quite a while to complete. Most find it difficult to define their greatest aspirations and, consequently, the means by which to achieve them. But through honest introspection, as you carefully assert what you value most, you will create a set of rules to guide you.

As Covey states, “Fundamentally, your mission statement becomes your constitution, the solid expression of your vision and values. It becomes the criterion by which you measure everything else in your life.” It will become harder to stray from your core values once you have defined them this way.

Once you have completed the statement, keep it close by and refer to it regularly. If you are bold, display it in your office or webpage or include it in your portfolio. Such open expressions of individuality never go unnoticed or unappreciated.

The above was reprinted with permission from Women in HIgher Education.

Image Credit/Source:michaeljung/Shutterstock


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