Study blasts Twitter discussions of academic journal articles

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Much of the activity around academic journal articles posted on Twitter is “mechanical and devoid of original thought”, according to a new study that questions the value of some alternative measures used to assess research.

The study’s authors, who analyzed 8,000 tweets from 4,000 research papers in the field of dentistry, say a “simplistic and naive” use of social media data risks damaging science. The article, titled “The Unsustainable Void of Tweeting – About Newspaper Articles”, was published in Plos One.

Another metrics provider said in response that tweet numbers can add valuable insights, but can’t tell “the whole story” if used in isolation.

In recent years, academics have been encouraged to use social media sites to disseminate their research findings and keep up to date with developments in their field. Counting the number of tweets an article garners is just one of a series of alternative metrics that some companies, such as Altmetric, use to offer insights into scholarly literature.

But so far, little research has investigated whether the number of tweets can serve as a measure of engagement with scholarly literature. Thus, a group of researchers led by Nicolas Robinson-Garcia, postdoctoral researcher at the School of Public Policy at the Georgia Institute of Technology, examined the content of 8,200 tweets from 2,200 US-based Twitter accounts about 4,350 dental research papers. .

They found that the most-tweeted article, about acetaminophen (paracetamol), racked up 264 tweets, placing it in the top 5% of search results rated by Altmetric. The researchers found that almost 75% of the tweets came from the same account, which linked to the paper 65 times in a repeat tweet that just said “paracetamol research” and 33 more times in another tweet that offered repeats of the same wording referring to the safety of acetaminophen during pregnancy.

A second account tweeted the newspaper 58 times, and the two accounts retweeted each other on occasion. If the tweet count ignored all but one of these two accounts, only 15 would remain, the researchers write. A similar phenomenon was observed with the second most tweeted article, they add.

Overall, Robinson-Garcia and her colleagues found “one problem obsessive tweets, duplicate tweets from numerous presumably professionally managed centrally accounts, duplicate bots and presumably human tweets, almost entirely mechanical and lacking of original thought.

Less than 10% of tweets about articles were organized or informed others about the literature. “Finding these accounts or seeing their influence on Twitter data about dental papers would be like looking for a needle in a haystack,” the authors state.

“The simplistic and naive use of social media data risks undermining the scientific enterprise, misleading both authors and consumers of scientific literature,” they add.

Catherine Williams, Director of Marketing at Altmetric, said: “We would wholeheartedly agree that relying solely on numbers could potentially be detrimental, which is why it’s so important to look beyond them in the actual mentions to understand the context of who is speaking. on a search, and why.

“When it comes to evaluating a search result, altmetrics are complementary to other quantitative and qualitative measures and while they often add valuable insights, of course they alone cannot tell the whole story. history,” she added.

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