Alternative media and metrics for academic promotion.

Crosspost from ICENet blog


By: Daniel Cabrera 

The moral and societal duty of an academic physician is to advance science, improve the care of his/her patients and share knowledge. Part of this role requires physicians to inform the public debate, responsibly influence policy and help translate complex practice for the public. As Clinician Educators our job is not to create knowledge obscura, trapped in ivory towers and only accessible to the enlightened; the knowledge we create and manage needs to impact our communities.

Academic Promotions and Tenure Committees in our institutions are charged with ensuring that the scholarly work of faculty impacts the academy. These committees aim to provide a promotion system rewarding the influence and significance of research, clinical care and education. The committees reward consistency and excellence.

The current scholarly publication citation system is a surrogate for this impact. The idea of creating an “impact factor” is to translate the relevance of a particular contribution in the appropriate spheres. However, these rankings are flawed; the metrics are often based on journal attributes instead of the specific works, they are easily manipulated, and most importantly, do not represent important constituents (e.g. front line clinicians, the public etc.). The majority of papers currently published are never cited and a significant percentage (as high as 30% in some studies) are never read.

However, we are not in Kansas anymore!

The open knowledge movement, facilitated via the advent of self-publication platforms (e.g. podcasts, blogs, DIY scientific journals), have allowed for rapid, targeted and massive dissemination of scientific knowledge (see Thoma).  Perhaps it is time we change the process of determining impact in this brave new world.  (Sorry, too many analogies.)

New metrics of influence can include downloads, likes, shares, page views, bookmarked content and conversations in communities of practice.  Of course, the question arises, are these metrics accurate surrogates of reflection, collaboration and enhanced  conversations about scholarly work?

Some academic physicians are early adopters, embracing the change to new metrics; (see @melissaterras). (We’ve written about this before on ICE – click here to review the post.)

As Clinician Educators, we should champion the movement from a 50-year old journal-based index that imperfectly served as a surrogate of influence to modern analytics with the ability to monitor, measure and share the real-time influence of scholars in the their institutional spheres but also in their public spheres. The goal should be  translating knowledge from the lyceum to the agora, from ivory towers to Twitter.

Image by JD Hancock (flickr) used under Creative Commons License CC2.0

References and further reading