Telling our story: A narrative deconstruction of metrics in research assessment

The 2015 Altmetrics Workshop
Amsterdam, 9 October 2015

Cameron Neylon


Early descriptions of altmetrics (Wu and Neylon, 2009, Priem et al, 2010) told a story focussed on discovery rather than assessment. Yet their political motivation was to subvert existing (and continuing) assumptions of how prestige in the academy is coupled to publication venue. Over the past five years three narratives have collided: a “new management” agenda amongst research institutional leaders, governments and some funders; a “new measurement” agenda, in which new sources of data and information are intended to diversify the basis on which new management agenda is pursued. Alongside these a strong backlash from different portions of the research community against measurement (or management) in any form has arisen (the “anti-metrics” agenda).

In this presentation I will deconstruct the narrative of key texts of the Altmetrics Movement and research assessment community. This focus on narrative reveals a set of strong (and unsupported) assumptions that various movements have a shared purpose as well as series of important unaddressed questions of what research is for. I will argue that these varying narratives collectively point to a fundamental misunderstanding of what measurement can achieve and that reframing a narrative that returns to a focus on discovery will enable more rapid progress on those original political goals to be made.