Maybe you haven’t heard of altmetrics; I hadn’t, until this morning. I hope you never have to hear of them again (but not too confidently). But I do urge you to read what David Colquhoun and Andrew Plested have to say about them.
In short, altmetrics are a new form of bibliometrics which “measure”, not the citations of a scientific paper, let alone any more meaningful impact indicators, but the activity the paper generates on social media (meaning mainly Twitter, but also Facebook and various other things that I haven’t heard of). If you think this is a bad idea (or even if you don’t), Colquhoun and Plested will tell you why that is the case.
Again in short, this kind of measure enables the companies that produce the numbers to sell them to universities as “Speed: months or weeks, not years: faster evaluations for tenure/hiring”. (They have already sold this to some universities, including Colquhoun’s and Plested’s, for real money.) But when challenged that this is not a measure of scientific quality, they can retreat to the position that it doesn’t claim to measure scientific quality, merely something interesting.
Of course, as Colquhoun and Plested point out, most people who tweet or re-tweet about a scientific paper have not read it (not least because it may be behind a paywall), and in many cases they know nothing about what it says apart from the title, and maybe the journal’s own tweet (which, as the authors show, can be staggeringly dishonest, even in the case of the journals of supposedly highest reputation).
One of the proponents of altmetrics, in a reply, can’t even bother to spell David Colquhoun’s name correctly. Is this lack of basic courtesy the norm in social media?
Do take a look. Here is the link again, on David Colquhoun’s blog (because the journal eLife, to whom it was submitted, considered it not worth publishing – judge for yourself).