Do Almetrics Indicators Capture Societal Engagement? A Comparison Between Survey and Social Media Data

09/10/2017 to 11/10/2017
Atlanta Conference on Science and Innovation Policy
Social media are seen as a potential channel for targeting stakeholders to accelerate the translation of relevant findings from scientific literature to practice (Grande et al., 2014). Such potential has raised expectations on altmetrics as a potential source of data to develop quantitative methods of societal impact analysis (Wilsdon et al., 2015). However, recent research has raised serious concerns on the validity of current altmetrics measures as direct indicators of societal impact (Sugimoto et al., 2016).

In this study, we explore whether altmetric indicators are related to societal engagement activities as self-reported in a large-scale survey. The population surveyed consists of researchers currently affiliated with Spanish institutions. They were invited to respond a set of questions regarding their interactions with non-academic stakeholders as well as their use and perceptions on social media as part of their involvement in dissemination activities.

Few studies have constrasted altmetric data with surveys on engagement. If so, they have done it in a tangential manner. For instance, Haustein and colleagues (2014) surveyed researchers from the field of bibliometrics in order to understand their use and perception of social media for scholarly communication. They found that a high proportion of scholars in this community do use social media platforms and that their work was highly covered (especially by Mendeley), concluding that altmetrics could be a potential source of impact data (without specifying what type of impact). Grande and colleagues (2014) focused on the field of Health Policy. In this case, they did not look at altmetric indicators. They surveyed health policy researchers to find out their use of social media and gain insights on their motivations for doing so. The study considered social media platforms as a good venue to interact and engage stakeholders in order to accelerate the introduction of policy relevant findings into practice. Still, they concluded that researchers’ perceptions and motivations for using social media needed to shift for this to happen.

This study compares altmetric indicators against interactions scholars have reported to have with non-academic stakeholders. The study will also study the differences and similarities among scientific fields in terms of altmetrics and self-reported engagement. We will analyze the publication record of 12,115 respondents to a survey from all fields of science who published at least one paper during the 2012-2014 period indexed in the Web of Science database. The on-line survey was conducted between June and July of 2016. Respondents were enquired to indicate the variety of stakeholders with whom they interacted (e.g. firms, government agencies, NGOs, hospitals, or civic organizations), types and frequency of interactions (both through formal and informal mechanisms) and dissemination strategies of research findings (use of both analog and digital means for transmission purposes to broader audiences).

We will compare their responses with the actual coverage of their work in social media, parting from the perceived hypothesis that researchers with a highly-disseminated oeuvre through social media (high altmetric scores) will be those who are actively engaging with non-academic stakeholders in an informal way. We will use the CWTS author disambiguation algorithm (Caron & van Eck, 2014) to identify the journal publications of respondents using the CWTS in-house version of the Web of Science. Altmetric data will be pulled from Currently one of the largest provider of altmetric data, capturing metrics from more than 10 different social media platforms (Robinson-Garcia et al., 2014).
Atlanta, Georgia USA
Nicolas Robinson-Garcia, Irene Ramos-Vielba, Rodrigo Costas, Pablo D’Este, Ismael Rafols