THE Scholarly Web

Weekly transmissions from the blogosphere

December 1, 2011

"We lurch ponderously through the time-sanctified dance of dissemination, 17th-century style," writes Jason Priem, a third-year doctoral student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "The article reigns. Scholars continue to wad the vibrant, diverse results of their creativity and expertise ... into publishers' slow moulds to be cast into articles: static, leaden information ingots."

This lament follows his claim that since its inception, the internet has transformed "practically every enterprise imaginable" except scholarly communication.

Yet in a post for the London School of Economics' Impact of Social Sciences blog, Mr Priem says he has witnessed a major shift recently as academics realise that "this approach is no longer the best we can do".

"We're defrosting our digital libraries, moving over a million personal reference collections online," he writes. "The journal was the first revolution in scholarly communication; we're on the brink of a second.

"The poster child for this Scholcomm Spring is Twitter," he argues. The micro-blogging site is used widely in scholarly circles to "discuss and cite literature, for teaching, to enrich conferences, or...as a 'global faculty lounge'."

But Mr Priem says that social media tools could have a more serious role in the measurement and evaluation of scholarly output. "The formerly ephemeral roots of scholarship: the discussions never transcribed, the annotations never shared, the introductions never acknowledged...These backstage activities are now increasingly tagged, catalogued, and archived on blogs, Mendeley, Twitter, and elsewhere," he writes.

These "Altmetrics", he says, "could be used in evaluating scholars or institutions, complementing unidimensional citation counts with a rich array of indicators revealing diverse impacts...imagine a system that gathers and analyses the bookmarks, page views, tweets, and blog posts from your online networks, using your interactions with them to learn and display each day's most important articles or posts. Even better, what if every scholar in the world had such a system? We might do away with journals entirely."

In a different take on the theme, Dorothy Bishop, professor of developmental neuropsychology at the University of Oxford, has assessed how to recognise whether your Twitter followers are "pillocks". "I'm always fascinated by the profiles of people who follow me on Twitter," she writes on her BishopBlog.

"But the ones that intrigue me most are the ones with profiles that create an immediate negative impression - or to put it more bluntly, make me just think 'Pillock!'"

She considers a number of hypotheses that could explain the off-putting profiles.

"The first was that I am being followed by genuine pillocks. But the other was that there are cultural differences in what is regarded as an acceptable way of presenting yourself to the world. Maybe a turn of phrase that makes me think 'pillock' would make someone else think 'cool'. Perhaps this is culturally determined."

Send links to topical, insightful and quirky online comment by and about academics to john.elmes@tsleducation.com

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