The Rise and Fall of Altermetrics: Tracking the Reach of Research on Social Media During the March 1 Student Walkout in the UK
Cost-of-living crises, labour shortages and the impact of global politics on research collaborations were among the challenges faced by working scientists in a tumultuous year.
Students weren’t the only ones calling for change. As part of an ongoing dispute, UK academics walked out in February in protest at unsustainable pay levels and working conditions. Three days of walkouts took place in November involving tens of thousands of academic employees at 150 universities. In April, strikes by academics in Nigeria calling for increased salaries brought the education system in the country to a standstill. In June, junior researchers in Europe published a manifesto that called for institutions to pay more-careful attention to job training and career paths. The document got a lot of signatures in October, including members of the European Parliament. And in November, tens of thousands of graduate students, postdoctoral researchers and other academic employees at the University of California — among the United States’ largest university systems — walked off the job to demand higher wages and increased child-care benefits.
The European Union’s education and research advocates have dedicated millions of dollars to improve the well-being of scientists at a young age. The EU hopes to stop the flood of scientists from leaving by establishing an EU-wide database for tracking career progression, giving universities incentives to develop policies that support their employees and working with industry to form partnerships.
Alternative metrics, also known as altmetrics, attempt to track the reach of research through social media, news sites and other outlets. They were created to tell more fully the story of research impact, but Bornmann says they have so far fallen short of that goal. For example, he says, counting mentions of a paper on social media doesn’t reveal much about its true significance: anyone can share a paper on social media, including those that don’t put stock in the results, are doing it to criticize the research or are spreading false information about its findings. In most cases the paper doesn’t have a deep understanding or a deep read, so you can see that by the number of people who use tweets on it. “One can really question how such data could be used for researcher evaluation.”
The National Institutes of Health shook up the system in February with an announcement that requires most of its funded researchers to make their data public. Starting at the same time, the journal Science will allow authors to publish near-final versions of their papers in a repository of their choice without paywalls or fees.
The Crossref organization, a non-profit organization that databaseises digital object IDs for many publications, made the reference lists of more than 60 million articles freely available to the public, a move which was applauded by advocates of open. Also that month, US President Joe Biden announced a commitment to make any federally funded research results freely available to the public, starting in 2026.
Several developments over the year have highlighted shortcomings and challenges in the publishing field. As reported in February, researchers from the global south have been significantly under-represented in open-access journals, largely because of publication fees. In March, a study found that one in four Australian researchers who are financially supported by pharmaceutical companies failed to note that connection when submitting manuscripts2. And questions about image integrity swirled around Nobel laureate and geneticist Gregg Semenza at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, leading to 17 corrections, retractions or editorial notes of concern.
In a move to protect researchers from scams, Retraction Watch, a blog dedicated to issues of scientific integrity, created a database of fake journal sites.
Science and politics in Australia and the EU: a warning from the Minister of State, the Minister for Science and Research and a reminder of what is needed and can still be done
Efforts to improve diversity in science, as well as reminders of work that still needs to be done, were brought about in the year. It was announced by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council that it will award half of its grants formid-career and senior researchers for the next five years. Also in Australia, philanthropic organization the Snow Medical Research Foundation ruled to exclude researchers from the University of Melbourne from consideration for the organization’s prestigious fellowships for one year, after the university released a photo of six white men receiving honorary degrees. And, Wellcome, a UK biomedical funding charity, acknowledged in a report that some of its own actions and funding decisions over the years have perpetuated systemic racism in science.
Women are less likely to be listed as authors on papers than men are, despite having similar contributions, according to a study by Nature.
There are fewer Chinese and US researchers with the same affiliations because of the economic tensions between the two countries. African researchers called for more inclusion of researchers from low- and middle-income countries in global collaborations at a conference.
This journal hopes that Donelan will adopt such a spirit when dealing with researchers and with the EU. The minister mentioned in her Sunday Telegraph article that the United Kingdom would create its own replacement fund for research collaboration with other countries if it didn’t get the association to Horizon Europe.
President Biden wanted to create a federal body in the US to protect scientists from political interference and he tried to support science through ambitious budget plans. In another move to prevent political meddling, researchers in Australia took steps to bar the prime minister from vetoing any grants that have been approved by scientific committees.
The US Supreme Court’s removal of the rights to abortion left scientists wondering how the decision would affect public health. And some made calls to boycott conferences held in states with laws against pregnancy terminations.
Despite efforts over the years to address bullying in science, the problem remains. A nationwide survey of Swedish scientists found worrying levels of bullying in the country. Eighteen per cent of respondents to Nature’s 2022 survey of graduate students reported experiences of bullying. 26% said they didn’t have to worry about personal repercussions if they talked about their experience.
Worldwide, much of the abuse targeted at scientists happens online, but social-media platforms aren’t doing much to shield researchers from attack. At a time when COVID-19 is being denied, high-profile scientists are more prone to online attacks.
The societal effects of research are harder to measure than the economic ones. “There are amazing impacts from research that aren’t economic,” he says. Researchers do critical work in humanities and social sciences that cause us to rethink the things that we value. Feminism scholarship has helped lead to greater equity in the workplace, he says.
In theory, it should be possible to systematically track connections between research and policy, including government policies and clinical guidelines, says Martin Szomszor, a freelance data scientist based in London. Szomszor co-authored a November 2022, paper that investigated a database of policy documents from governments, think tanks and charities. Szomszor said a citation in a policy document can be more meaningful than a citation in a journal. He says it’s an important way to show that research changed behavior.
The Steering Research and Innovation for Global Goals (STRINGS) is a New York City based group of researchers who believe that research can be used for the advancement of the goals. The report found that 95–98% of patents and inventions and 60–80% of academic publications are “poorly aligned with SDGs”. The report found that only about 70% of research done in low income countries has a connection to the newSDG and less than half of it is done in high income countries. Major investment is needed to gather data about knowledge and innovation investment and production across all contexts and sectors.
At an even wider level, science has the potential to transform the planet by tackling global environmental crises, such as climate change, and to improve the well-being of poorer communities. The UN sustainable development goals are a set of 17 targets that address the biggest global challenges of poverty, hunger and clean energy.
If Alternative metrics are ever going to be a reliable basis for funding decisions, they need to be refined andValidate, says Bornmann, who admits it is not clear whether they are valid. “There needs to be a longer period of research on these metrics, and then they can be used in evaluation,” he says.
Science leaders had broadly welcomed Donelan’s appointment, and the elevation of science to a cabinet-level department. There has been disappointment about the go-it-alone rhetoric.
Building research for any purpose, even for discovery science, the science needed in environmental protection, or science for industrial development, is not like heating an oven-ready microwave meal. Results are not a matter of plucking something off the shelf, pressing some buttons and getting an outcome in record time.
Any partnerships that are formed are welcomed. The logic behind comparing them to the United Kingdom’s existing science relationships is questionable. If the country really aspires to harness science in the service of society and the economy, multiple collaborative projects, on many levels, will be required: within and between disciplines, globally and regionally, including with the United Kingdom’s nearest neighbours.
Horizon Europe Partnerships: How Scientists Can Become More Attractive and Sustainable? A Case Study of a University Researcher in Seville, Spain
The EU says that the United Kingdom can participate in Horizon Europe, but it has imposed a political condition: participation will be allowed only once there is resolution in a dispute over trading arrangements between the United Kingdom and the EU on the UK border with Ireland — a problem that has been rumbling on since the United Kingdom formally left the bloc in January 2020.
Politicians from major UK political parties, as well as experts and business leaders met last week to discuss ways of working with EU partners after the UK leaves the EU. This, too, is welcome, because it suggests that there’s a real desire for a national consensus on new beginnings with the EU.
Heitor says that there is a push to firm up plans before the parliament holds its elections in 2024. “Our actions here mark a first step towards making research careers across Europe more attractive and sustainable,” he says.
Through a spokesperson, Gabriel says that the EU urgently needs to work with member states, universities, research organizations and industry to ensure that it can continue to recruit and retain researchers.
A junior faculty member at the University of Seville in Spain, who is researching Parkinson’s disease, says that academics are leaving Spain for other nations, particularly the United States. She got her degree from the Spanish government, and then did a post-doc in Seville. The research she is doing is studying the role of autophagy in neurodegenerative disease.
She said that many scientists remain abroad, but she came back to Spain to be near her family. Even now, in a relatively secure position, González-Rodríguez says she struggles to find funding for her students and staff members, a preoccupation that eats into her lab’s productivity. The current struggle, she notes, is trying to work out how to keep her laboratory technician, who is employed on a temporary contract, funded beyond May. She could not find a job within a few months.
To assess which institutions will be eligible, Heitor says, the commission will need to draft criteria for evaluating what constitutes a ‘good’ research career for junior scientists, and a group is being formed for this purpose. If the assessment takes into account how many early career researchers the institution has on its staff, the level of research autonomy they have and whether it is offering opportunities to at-risk scientists, it will probably look at how many are currently on staff.
Horizon Europe and the research funding of early-career archaeologists: a critical look at 2021, when Berlin closed its doors to permanent employment
Over the next few years the initiative could potentially have a budget of over a million dollars. If the programme proves successful, it will probably be included as a budget item in the next iteration of Horizon Europe — the EU’s research and innovation funding programme — with an operating budget on a par with the €16 billion of the ERC.
Heitor said that he was looking at a co-funding mechanism that would solicit partnerships with national funding agencies or industry groups. Heitor suggests that industry should be involved in funding basic research. “Companies benefit from the work that early-career researchers do, even if they’re not working in industry. We would ask that these companies dedicate funds towards supporting this work.”
Attila Dézsi, an early-career archaeologist who freelances for the University of Tübingen and the State Office for the Preservation of Monuments in Germany, says that any initiatives will need to be vetted carefully to ensure they don’t inadvertently create problems. In 2021, for example, Berlin tried to address a lack of opportunities for postdocs by requiring universities in the city-state to provide pathways to permanent employment. There have been hiring freezes and resignations after the law backfired. “That really harmed the whole situation,” says Dézsi, who chose the freelance route after their PhD owing to the challenges of finding permanent work. “We need to be very thoughtful in what we do next.”