Euan Adie is the founder of Altmetric.com, a start-up that has set out to measure the impact that research has in the 'real world' by looking at the way individual pieces of research are shared online. Altmetric was founded in 2011 and is supported by Digital Science. Euan is a bioinformatician by training and was previously Senior Product Manager at nature.com, where he worked on online bookmarking and scientific blogging tools. He is a frequent conference speaker on article level metrics and the practical uses of altmetrics in scientific publishing.
This year Euan will speak at two Ingenta events at The London Book Fair. On Wednesday 9 April he will appear at The Faculty @LBF to debate Beyond open access – what’s next for academic publishing? with speakers from Nature Publishing and PLOS. On Thursday 10 April he will appear at the BIC Supply Chain Seminar in The Big Debate on The Future of Business Models alongside Wattpad. Ahead of these events we caught up with Euan in the latest in our interview series What is a Publisher Now?
1. Okay. Imagine we're stuck in a lift together. Tell us a little about what Altmetric is and what it does?
Sure! We're a data science start-up, based in London. We help make it easier for researchers, institutions and journals to find evidence for the full impact of their work. We do that by tracking where articles and other outputs are mentioned, saved or used online and pulling it all together into reports.
2. You founded Altmetric in 2011 as the altmetrics movement was beginning to gather real pace. What were the main problems you saw with measurement that drove you to set up the business?
For me the biggest problems were - still are - related to scope; to get credit as a researcher at least in the sciences you have to write research papers and the success of those papers are indicated by citations or, indirectly, by the impact factor of the journals you published in.
That sucks. Citations are a proxy for scholarly influence, but that's only one of the many positive impacts that a piece of work can have. It's a really important one, but we should be looking beyond them too. What about public engagement, or reaching practitioners, or patients, or influencing policy?
I got into altmetrics full time because in the long term I think it can help with that.
But there are more immediate uses too. I used to write a bioinformatics blog, while I was still working in academia. You can put Google Analytics on a blog and see within minutes if people are reading your posts, where traffic comes from, who's linking to you and what they're saying. Why shouldn't you be able to do that with your actual research?
That's not an ego thing! Or perhaps it's not *just* an ego thing. Researchers are pressured into demonstrating the impact, the value for money, that they're creating all the time - OK, fine, but in that case let's give them the tools to help discover and prove that impact.
3. And why do ALMs as you currently see them provide a solution to this problem?
I think the collected qualitative data gives authors and readers an immediate picture of the kinds of attention that research is getting, and from where. They're a way of capturing attention that's otherwise ephemeral and allowing it to be referenced and audited.
Then finally the metrics part that sits on top of the qualitative stuff allows you to put it all in context, to give you an indication of whether your work is doing better or worse than you might expect.
4. You're very clear in saying that you see altmetrics as being complementary to the traditional use of citations to measure the authority of a scholarly article. Why do you think we need two measurements for an article
Definitely. I think we need many more than two measurements, actually. The important thing is for different user groups to figure out what can and should be measured. We're just starting to see this happen.
For example, your communications office probably cares about public engagement. Your funder maybe cares about the effect on clinical practice. Maybe your institution cares most about the number of patents that are going to come out of your work.
Those aren't things that citations measure particularly well. I'm not saying that there's a magic altmetrics bullet that'll work in all those cases either, but the point is that by looking at data that's currently considered 'alt' we give ourselves more scope to address them.
5. And do you ever see a day in which those two measurements are aggregated, or ALMs become more important than citations?
I think citations will always be important. I'd hope that as tools allow they'll become more sophisticated, and easier to gather. I'd love to see things like David Shotton's excellent citation ontology (CITO) or open bibliometrics projects take off.
6. Our conception of what a piece of research itself is changing. The world of the journal article and the monograph is rapidly giving way to a world where these content forms are joined by 'minigraphs', video content, Slideshare presentations, blog posts and so on. Do you think the principle of Article Level Metrics can be applied across more content forms?
Absolutely! At least to some of them. Tangentially I do think that because it's so simple to create content online nowadays that it's easy to become blase about what academic publishing might actually entail. Publishers tend to talk about the value they add organising peer review or editing but not so much about gatekeeping the scholarly record, which is a bit of a shame.
If I cite a paper I can be reasonably sure that in ten years time that future readers will be able to find it, even if the journal it was originally in has long since been folded into another, or renamed, or moved. I can also be reasonably sure that the version I cited hasn't changed to any great degree, so the author hasn't gone back in and changed the conclusion to say the exact opposite.
I can be reasonably sure that if the journal I published in has gone bust my paper will still be accessible to future readers (even if it's just sitting in a CLOCKSS archvie somewhere).
So there's more general work to do before we can really class other research types of 'first class' objects. That said platforms like figshare are doing a great job here already.
7. February was the second anniversary of the release of the first Altmetric Explorer. How has your platform changed over those two years?
The biggest shift for us was away from just social media and data collection towards more curation and approaches like text mining. We've been really lucky to have a lot of great feedback over the past couple of years both from customers and librarians, who we give free access to, so hopefully that's been reflected in the product too, in little usability tweaks.
We've also had to scale quite a lot quicker than expected, which isn't something you'd necessarily notice from the outside but has meant a lot of technical work has had to happen behind the scenes.
8. And what's next for it?
I think in the long term we want to do more with provenance, trust networks and see if we can't use some of the attention data we're gathering to help with issues like post publication review. We're also doing much more with the gray literature.
9. In fifteen words or fewer, what is a publisher now?
A one stop shop (grouping editing, authentication, dissemination, credit) for publishing your research.