Beyond the Impact Factor: Altmetrics

Many thanks to Hardy Schwamm for today’s Research Bite introducing altmetrics, and also to those of you who came along and contributed your questions and thoughts to the discussion.


In the context of huge increases in publication output, the Altmetrics manifesto claims that we need new ways to filter for quality. The development of altmetrics is also an attempt to catch up with the changes in scholarly communication. Altmetrics are a reaction to the fact that the impact factor is often incorrectly used to assess the impact of individual articles, when in fact it just evaluates the impact of the journal. Altmetrics also acknowledge that research outputs are broader than just journal articles, and encompass datasets, software, blog posts, presentations and so on.

Altmetrics are:

Metrics based on the social web

Among the most promising and influential Altmetrics services are:

  • Altmetric – UK based, not affiliated to a publisher, focusing on article-centric or article level metrics
  • PlumX – gather metrics on different ‘artifacts’, but also on individuals, groups and institutions
  • ImpactStory  – focusing on individuals

The key audiences are:

  • Individuals can use altmetrics to understand their own impact, or influence.
  • Publishers can use it to inform readers, marketing and identify strengths
  • Institutions can use it to gauge impact, inform REF and funding bids and recruitment?

Not everyone is happy with incorporating the Almetric score. Can you really compare across disciplines? Is an article with a score of 2000 really that much ‘better’ than one scoring 25? Altmetric does include percentile information when you click through to the detail. This ability to click through to the detail, and actually delve into those ‘mentions’ is a useful feature.


How do they track your output (e.g. article)? Altmetric use the DOI (Digital Object Identifier), PubMed ID and ArXiv ID to track mentions.

Does it count mentions of your name? Altmetric just looks at articles, not the identity of the researcher. ImpactStory and PlumX do focus more on the individual, but it would be in association with a particular work, as far as we understand. So an appearance on TV wouldn’t be counted (unless the broadcaster had a link on their website too).

Does it only measure positive mentions? No. There’s no discrimination, so like traditional citation counts, others could be denouncing your research, but you’d still benefit from the stats!

Is there going to be an institutional licence to the product? The Library and RSO are aware of altmetrics and inviting providers to visit and tell us more.

Hardy: Would this kind of product be useful? Is the score useful? Participants: It’s all ‘grist to the mill’. If you can provide your line manager with some data like this it could contribute to them understanding your performance. The score seems pretty meaningless though. It’s good to have a service which aggregates all this data in such a timely way. Citations can take a long time to accrue. It bridges the gap between informal discussions and citations in journal articles. Though it can never be a complete measure. Altmetrics could inform the REF in terms of impact of research in the community or public engagement outside of the academy.

Is it just a snapshot in time (i.e. does it only provide data from Twitter for 30 days?) It appears that it is not just a snapshot in time, but a record of mentions, though data collection would presumably have to start somewhere, so may not be accurate for older papers (by older, I mean pre-2011!).

Do altmetrics cover patents? Plum covers citation in US patents.

What’s our definition of impact? Is it just getting your research out there and generating a buzz? Some disciplines view this kind of attention as public engagement. Impact is making a change to the world, e.g. through policy change or a technological advance. Altmetrics contribute to a multi-faceted view of impact, including non-academic engagement.

Can you track the geographic element? Yes, with Altmetric. When you click through to the detailed data. e.g.


Is it performing as a filter? Ranking efforts and scores like in Altmetric are difficult to interpret and shouldn’t be compared across disciplines. However, if you see that an article was discussed in the (social) media it might be worth seeing why it got mentioned so often.

Won’t it be open to scholars artificially inflating scores? Yes, just like traditional citation practices! It also favours researchers who are active on the social web.

The Altmetrics manifesto disagrees:
Some have suggested altmetrics would be too easy to game; we argue the opposite. The JIF is appallingly open to manipulation; mature altmetrics systems could be more robust, leveraging the diversity of of altmetrics and statistical power of big data to algorithmically detect and correct for fraudulent activity.

This post was amended on 24/09/2014 following feedback from Hardy.


Filing a Patent, and Intellectual Property Rights sessions

Research Bites have benefitted from the expertise of Gavin Smith, the University’s Intellectual Property (IP) Officer, over the last 2 weeks. He has delivered two useful sessions, which I’ll summarise. If you picked up on any points which I haven’t included, please do share them in the comments box below.

Filing a Patent on you invention and commercialising it, 4th Sept 2014

Patents are an intervention by the state into markets and a formal way of protecting your intellectual property.
The Intellectual Property Office is a comprehensive source of information, and the source of the following definition:

Your invention must:
  • be new
  • have an inventive step that is not obvious to someone with knowledge and experience in the subject
  • be capable of being made or used in some kind of industry
  • not be:a scientific or mathematical discovery, theory or methoda literary, dramatic, musical or artistic worka way of performing a mental act, playing a game or doing businessthe presentation of information, or some computer programsan animal or plant varietya method of medical treatment or diagnosisagainst public policy or morality.

from IPO’s What is a Patent?

There is a process that needs to be followed when filing a patent, which involves making a very specific claim for what you want to protect. This includes a description containing enough detail to allow someone else to replicate your invention.

Patents operate on a ‘First to file’ basis, so the speed at which you prepare your claim is important. A patent examiner, who is an expert in the field, would then conduct a search report to see whether there is any ‘prior art’ (including your own previous work) which would prevent your patent being considered as new. They also examine your claim to make sure it is compliant and may ask technical questions about your invention.

The inventor is classed as the person with idea, not necessarily the person who made the invention. You do not need to have a working prototype in order to file a patent.

Non-patent Intellectual property, 12th Sept 2014
This session covered:

It’s useful to consider the name of a product or business to make sure it is not already being used in your field of work. Includes registered trademarks and internet domain names.

Copyright is an unregistered right, you don’t need to apply for it, or pay a fee for it. The medium of the creative work doesn’t matter. You don’t have to apply the © symbol, but it does serve to remind people who owns the rights to the work. Copyright does not protect the idea behind the work, just the manifestation of the idea.

At the University, copyright is owned by the creator of the work, for example a journal article or book, except for teaching materials which have been developed. Copyright does give you the power of redress if someone uses your work improperly.

A Design right protects the three-dimensional form e.g. coca cola bottle of an object, or the ‘two-dimensional ornamentation’ e.g. the logo, not the function. So if there is value in your design in terms of the way it looks, then it is worth considering registering a design right.

Trade marks
Anyone can use a name and the ™ symbol, but this doesn’t give you any formal rights. However, registered trade marks give you right to stop someone using your brand. If your brand’s name is considered to have value, and be known in association with the product or service, then it is worth registering.

Registered trademarks can be in different classes, i.e. the same name can be trademarked for different types of products, e.g. Polo mints, Ralph Lauren Polo shirts, VW Polo etc.

A recent dispute between Interflora vs. Marks and Spencer, where M&S had bought the Google AdWords for ‘Interflora’ so that their own florist service ranked higher in Google search results, was considered to infringe Interflora’s trademark rights, and is no longer possible to do.
Continue reading Filing a Patent, and Intellectual Property Rights sessions

Choosing a Creative Commons licence recording and Q&As

Thanks again to Lorna for an excellent session looking at how to choose a Creative Commons (CC) licence for your digital output. The recording is now available.

We had a few questions during the session, which I’ll summarise below for anyone that couldn’t make it.

How can I find CC licenced material? You can use Google’s Advanced search features to search for materials with a particular licence e.g. allow reuse. Find Google Advanced search options under Settings from the Google homepage.


An alternative is to use ‘rights cleared’ images from an image bank such as Britannica Image Quest, which the Library subscribes to.

How will I know which CC licence has been applied to a piece of work? You may see the CC logos on the work, or just the abbreviated reference to the licence, e.g. CC-BY-SA for Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike.

How do I choose? During the session Lorna referred to a clear flowchart produced by Creative Commons Australia which guides you through the options. A similar tool from also generates some machine readable code to embed into your website.

Questions and Answers from Third Party Copyright and Fair dealing session

Here is a summary of the Q&As from the ‘Third Party Copyright and Fair dealing’ session last week. Thanks to Lorna for providing the detail.

Q: What do I need to do about copyright when I finish my PhD and wish to publish a commercial book?

A: The publisher would be proactive in clearing material in copyright, and would seek permissions before publishing. They are typically risk-averse.

Q: What about if I wish to self-publish?

A: Then you would be responsible for seeking the necessary permissions and bearing any risk.

Q: How do I know whether or not I can put my published wok into a repository e.g. on ResearchGate?

A: You can use SHERPA/Romeo  to check the policy of each publisher/journal title.

Q: Can copyright ownership be passed on to another person, e.g. an executor?

A: Yes, copyright is a property right, and so it can be passed on or bequeathed like other possessions.

Q: I have taken photos of patients in my research. Are there any copyright implications when using these?

A: No, you own the copyright. You would be expected to seek informed consent as part of your ethical research practice, and would need to consider privacy and data protection if they are identifiable.

Q: I have taken photos of groups of people in a public setting, but have not sought their permission as they are indistinct or just part of the scene. Is that OK?

A: Where people are incidentally included in a photograph, or are not the main focus, there are unlikely to be data protection issues.  However, to respect people’s privacy in private spaces you should generally obtain consent to take photographs first, explaining what use you will make of the photograph, or give people the opportunity to move out of the shot.  For general shots at degree ceremonies where taking photographs is the norm, this would probably not apply, but if you wished to take shots of specific individuals as the main focus, it would be good practice to obtain consent.

Q: Are textiles (e.g. ceremonial robes) protected under copyright, as a work of art?

A: Works of artistic craftsmanship are protected by copyright.  This term probably means works created with skilled craftsmanship, with aesthetic appeal and where artistic form is more important than functional considerations.  Machine made items would probably not fall into this category.  So ceremonial dress probably wouldn’t be covered, textiles and the mace would depend on the item and how much artistic merit they have.

Q: What happens if you reach a dead end when trying to find the copyright holder to seek permission?

A: You would need to take a ‘risk-based’ approach, and weigh up the likelihood of the copyright holder seeking redress, perhaps financially.

‘Third party copyright and fair dealing’ recording now available

Copyright symbol

For those of you who missed this excellent session by Lorna Pimperton yesterday, you can watch a recording of the session and hear some of the questions raised by participants. We haven’t including the extended discussion at the end, but we’re preparing a summary of the questions, responses and any additional guidance to share with you soon.

For a look back at previous sessions, you can click on the ‘Sessions‘ category on this blog, or go straight to the Research bites folder on Panopto.

Social media for researchers: ResearchGate and recording available

Thank you to everyone who came to last week’s session Social media for researchers: ResearchGate and There was a lot of discussion in the session, so if you missed it, take a look at the recording. If you have any experience of using these social networks, please add your comments.

Research Bites sessions in September 2014

Join us for an informal 20 minute session. Bring your lunch, and a friend.

Just turn up, no need to book.

Filing a patent on your invention and commercialising it
Thursday 4th September, 12.00. Fylde C48
Expert advice on filing a patent from the University’s Research Enterprise Service.
Gavin Smith, Intellectual Property Officer.

Non-patent Intellectual Property
Friday 12th September, 12.00. Fylde C48
Expert advice on intellectual property from the University’s Research Enterprise Service.
Gavin Smith, Intellectual Property Officer.

Beyond the Impact Factor: Altmetrics
Friday 19th September, 12.00. Fylde C48
A look at altmetrics and their growing significance to researchers
Hardy Schwamm, Research Data and Repository Manager

Your identity as a researcher – ORCID
Friday 26th September, 12.00. Fylde C48
Find out what ORCID is, and how it can help you to distinguish your work from someone else’s.
Tanya Williamson, Assistant Librarian.