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Metrics and Impact – Looking Beyond Research Articles

The PLOS Biology magazine section features perspectives, essays, unsolved mysteries, community pages, and other pieces written by thought-leaders and rising stars from all walks of biology and beyond. These articles put forward new ideas, propose policy changes, highlight initiatives and tools of value for the community, explain research for those outside a specific field – but don’t typically report the results of original research. If journal-level metrics are misleading when it comes to the evaluation of any individual research article’s quality or impact, they are irrelevant for non-research content.

 

Yet these articles have broad-ranging impact and are extremely valuable. You don’t have to take my word for it (I get paid to run the PLOS Biology magazine, after all, so I’m hardly an unbiased source of information) – take a look at Article-Level Metrics (ALMs) instead.

 

Among all PLOS Biology articles published in 2014, the most read article – with more than 66K views and downloads – appeared in our magazine and laid out Best Practices for Scientific Computing. The paper went viral on twitter, with nearly 1K tweets and comments such as “A+ paper on integrity of analytical software” and “Where have you been all my life?”. Similarly, in 2013, the article that garnered the most attention by readers and social media users was again a magazine article: Holly Bik and Miriam Goldstein’s An Introduction to Social Media for Scientists. The social media world went a-tweeting and a-liking the piece, which has been viewed more than 140K times since its publication.

 

ALMs are freely available for every PLOS article – and a quick summary of key metrics appears in a handy box at the top right of the article page. Clicking on the metrics tab will take you to a more detailed breakdown of metrics for the article. Want to dig deeper? Go to http://article-level-metrics.staging.plos.org/
ALMs are freely available for every PLOS article – and a quick summary of key metrics appears in a handy box at the top right of the article page. Clicking on the metrics tab will take you to a more detailed breakdown of metrics for the article. Want to dig deeper? Go to http://article-level-metrics.staging.plos.org/

PLOS Biology magazine articles inform, but they also set standards in the field. In 2010, Carol Kilkenny and colleagues put together the ARRIVE Guidelines for Reporting Animal Research. These guidelines were drawn up by a group of statisticians, editors, and funders on the initiative of the UK National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research, in order to improve reporting standards in pre-clinical research. The ARRIVE guidelines were endorsed by more than 300 journals and the major UK funding bodies; and the article has been cited more than 400 times in Scopus.

 

Our magazine articles make you think – Losos and colleagues’ roadmap of Evolutionary Biology for the 21st Century was recommended by colleagues on F1000Prime, garnered more than 40K views since its publication in 2013, and was bookmarked more than 400 times on Mendeley. The articles also surprise – who would have suspected that even in the 21st century there is a sex bias among researchers who study genital evolution? (As one of the several media outlets that covered this piece noted, Biologists Prefer the Penis.)

 

As well as all of these, the PLOS Biology magazine articles educate, generate debate, highlight, engage, call to action… Impact takes several different forms – and without article-level metrics it’s impossible to capture it.

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