Scholarly Communications Lab Projects
Like nearly everyone in the publishing industry these days, the publishing professors at SFU have plenty going on. For example, take Dr. Juan Pablo Alperin, who teaches PUB802: Technology & Evolving Forms of Publishing, is the Public Knowledge Project’s Associate Faculty Director of Research, is the recent recipient of the Open Scholarship Award from the Canadian Social Knowledge Institute, and on top of all of that is also the man behind many research projects at the Scholarly Communications Lab, which he co-directs.
While not all of them are directly related to the trade industry, almost everything they do is about scholarly publishing. We wanted to highlight some of the interesting things he and his team have been working on lately.
Cancer in the News
Alperin’s team is looking at news coverage of government-funded papers in biomedical research (specifically cancer) by analyzing how many times each study is mentioned in the news, and where. More specifically, they are looking at how the news is shared based on the 4 tiers of news coverage in both traditional and non-traditional outlets—a hierarchy that editors often use when determining the value of a story.
Open Source Altmetrics
They’re also working on building a tool for academic journals to have article-level metrics. Altmetrics are alternative ways of measuring scholarly impact, such as references in online news media and social media, as opposed to more traditional measures that identify things such as number of citations.
RPT (Review, Promotion, and Tenure) Project
Alperin and his team investigated the review, promotion, and tenure (RPT) process in the U.S. and Canada. Their goal was to deliver recommendations to universities and colleges that would encourage behavioural change towards a greater opening of access to research results.
They began by collecting RPT guidelines from over 100 institutions and assessed the degree to which they included Open Access (OA) recommendations.
“Despite countless policies and mandates promoting open access, as well as the development of tools and resources that facilitate it, and despite years of advocacy work, the majority of researchers are still not compelled to make their research outputs publicly available because the incentive structures that drive faculty’s research dissemination strategies remain unchanged,” says the team.
They found that only five (1%) of the RPT guidelines they studied explicitly mentioned OA, and in four of the five cases it was only “done to call attention to the potential problematic nature of these journals (which are seen as potentially of lower quality than subscription journals).”
The team is continuing on to Phase II of the project, where they will be studying faculty perceptions and beliefs regarding the RPT process, how RPT documents influence perceptions of the process, and the factors outside of RPT guidelines that influence how faculty disseminate their research.
Social Media Use by Researchers
In April, the team hosted a roundtable discussion about using social media to share science stories. Invited were: a YouTuber, an Instagram biologist, a traditional science journalist turned freelancer, and a journalist from Hakai Magazine (which specializes in citizen science).
Science Writers and Communicators of Canada
Similar to the roundtable discussion on how scientists are sharing science stories via social media, this project also looks at how science communicators are using untraditional methods to share their message (such as vlogging, instagramming, etc.).
As Science Writers and Communicators of Canada recently added “communicators” to their focus, Alperin’s team wanted to look at who and where these communicators are and how to best support them. They also wanted to look at how they differ from conventional science communicators in terms of standard ethics, accuracy, and practice; how they see themselves, and how they reach their audiences.
The findings will help identify the goals and challenges of science communication in Canada, and how to best support, train, and create outreach activities that will improve the quality of public engagement with science.
The team combed the social web to identify public concerns about diabetes to direct academic research on the disease. This method of harnessing public engagement to directly impact research helps connect and involve the general public in academia, and vice versa.
Measuring Facebook Engagement
Many people share things over social media privately, such as through direct message or email. This sharing, known as dark social, currently cannot be accurately tracked. So the team looked at how altmetrics measure dark social, and found that there is a considerable amount of sharing done out of the public sphere that is captured by altmetrics.
And some of their work has been recently published in papers:
Zika and Language Use on Social Media
In this paper, they looked at how during the Zika virus outbreak there was an uptick in Zika research. Although the purpose of sharing research was to communicate with and inform the general public, the team used a language detection algorithm and “found that up to 90% of Twitter and 76% of Facebook posts are in English” despite English not being the first language of those at the centre of the epidemic.
Among other things, their paper says, “Our results suggest that Facebook is a more effective channel than Twitter, if communication is desired to be in the native language of the affected country.” They also explain that altmetrics favour English-language communication, large Western publications, and Twitter, meaning we need to build nationally relevant metrics in order to more accurately measure social impact.
Looking at Networks on Twitter
This paper looks at how primary research literature affects the public’s understanding and engagement with science; and how knowledge diffuses using social media. In their small case study, they found that Open Access articles shared tended to stay within small communities comprised of mainly researchers and did not generally reach the outside community.