Citations? Great. But have you got the ‘t factor’?

Proposed Twitter-based altmetric would treat retweets like citations

August 20, 2015
Strong man
Strong-arm tactics: the t factor ‘seems highly susceptible to gaming’

So your email signature contains your h-index, your Eigenfactor score and the impact factors of the most prestigious journals you have published in. But wait – you’ve forgotten your “t factor”.

This is a new Twitter-based “altmetric” proposed in a paper, t factor: A metric for measuring impact on Twitter, posted on the arXiv preprint server by two researchers from Germany’s Max Planck Society.

The authors liken a retweet to a citation in that it reflects the “impact” of the initial tweet. Hence, based on the formula for the citation-focused h-index, they say that an individual (or paper, journal or research group) should be assigned a t factor of x if they have x tweets that have been retweeted at least x times.

They say the measure is an improvement on existing Twitter metrics, which do not distinguish between tweets and retweets and can be skewed by large numbers of retweets for a single tweet.

One of the paper’s authors, Lutz Bornmann, a sociologist of science at the Max Planck Society’s Division for Science and Innovation Studies, admitted that it was unclear what Twitter impact actually measured because research showed that it did not correlate with citations. However it may, he suggested, measure “impact on parts of society outside science”.

James Wilsdon, professor of science and democracy at the University of Sussex and chair of a recent independent review of the role of research metrics, worried that the t factor “seems highly susceptible to gaming of various kinds”.

“It also reflects a rather narrow view of how and why [academics] use Twitter,” he added. “Publicising their own papers is a tiny slice of what they tweet about…It would be a great shame if an online space that is typically characterised by openness, plurality and a certain playfulness were to be stifled and impoverished by a hasty move to measure and value certain types of activity over others.”

David Colquhoun, emeritus professor of pharmacology at University College London and a critic of metrics, said that it was rare to see “a serious bit of basic research” mentioned on Twitter.

“The best way to get lots of retweets is to write something that’s disastrously wrong or just nonsense. Preferably, it should mention diet or memory or sex or quackery in the title,” he said.

“If anyone were sufficiently foolish to take seriously the t factor, or altmetrics in general, as a method of assessing the worth of a person or a paper, the result would be corruption of science. The only people to gain would be the commercial suppliers of naive numbers to naive bean counters.”

 paul.jump@tesglobal.com

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Related articles

Related universities

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Citations? Great. But ‘t factor’?

Reader's comments (1)

oh dear..... i thought we shall stop at the IFS, Impact Factor Syndrome and the HIS, H-Index Syndrome (http://ow.ly/RgTkd) but wait, i had forgotten another syndrome that the scientists have and its called TFS, the T-Factor Syndrome. the whole system needs a complete revival.

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

question marks PhD study

Selecting the right doctorate is crucial for success. Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O'Gorman share top 10 tips on how to pick a PhD

India, UK, flag

Sir Keith Burnett reflects on what he learned about international students while in India with the UK prime minister

Pencil lying on open diary

Requesting a log of daily activity means that trust between the institution and the scholar has broken down, says Toby Miller

Microlight pilot flies with flock of cranes

Reports of UK-based researchers already thinking of moving overseas after Brexit vote

Portrait montage of Donald Trump and Nigel Farage

From Donald Trump to Brexit, John Morgan considers the challenges of a new international political climate