Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Potential Future Impact as an Input to Selective Dissemination of Information

My friend Julianne brought this article to my attention:
Neylon C, Wu S (2009) Article-Level Metrics and the Evolution of Scientific Impact. PLoS Biol 7(11): e1000242. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000242
It is useful, but it seems to confound indices of impact with indices that would be useful for the selective dissemination of information.

An index of impact by definition seeks to measure the impact an article or journal has already had. Of course one might seek to construct an index of projected impact, and indeed that might be interesting. One might combine the reputation of the authors and the journal with data on readership, and link it to the "heat of the subject area" using counts such as the rate of change of publication of articles on the topic.

The selective dissemination of information seeks to supply people with information that they will find useful and/or interesting. While an article on surgical technique may be likely to have huge impact, it would not be likely to be of use to an electrical engineer or an astronomer. One has to take the specific interests of the reader into account to do a good job of recommending things for that reader to attend to. Amazon knows this!

The index for selective dissemination of information might however seek to combine an index of predicted future impact, such as described above, with an index of relevance to the reader.

I think scientists would be happy to help construct good tools to help them easily find the information that they will want. Whether they would be willing to participate in evaluation of new publications in terms of probable future impact is perhaps, as Neylon and Wu suggest, a matter of the incentives involved.

It seems to me that the folk at Google and Amazon, who are so good at constructing indices, might offer some help to the scientific community in preparing better tools for the selective dissemination of scientific information within the scientific community.

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