In recent years, bibliometrics (citation analysis) has become the gold standard in measuring impact of the sciences (Committee for Scientific and Technology Policy 2014). However, it is an important drawback of citation analysis that it only measures the influence of scientific work on science itself. Today, research funders and science politicians are interested in the broad impact of science, i.e. the impact of the sciences beyond the sciences. Thus, scientometricians are searching for new ways of measuring impact. Altmetrics (alternative metrics) might offer these new ways: “Altmetrics are usually based on activity on social media platforms, which relates to scholars or scholarly content… However, altmetrics also comprise mentions in mainstream media or policy-related documents, as well as usage metrics such as full text views and downloads, although these have been available long before the concept of altmetrics was introduced. The common denominator of these heterogeneous metrics is that they exclude, and are opposed to, ‘traditional’ bibliometric indicators” (Work et al. 2015). Thus, altmetrics are intended to complement traditional (citation-based) metrics.
According to Thelwall and Kousha (2015) “in theory, alternative metrics may be helpful when evaluators, funders or even national research assessment need to know about ‘social, economic and cultural benefits and impacts beyond academia’” (p. 588; see also Moed and Halevi 2015). In altmetrics studies, blogging, social bookmarks, and microblogging are of particular interest (Bornmann 2015). Since a short time ago, many publishers have added altmetrics to the papers published in their journals (Wilsdon et al. 2015). Currently, three bigger companies offer altmetrics data on the paper level: Altmetric (www.altmetric.com), Plum Analytics (www.plumanalytics.com), and Impact Story (www.impactstory.org) (Zahedi et al. 2014). Recently, Altmetric has begun to cover another source of altmetrics data which is of particular interest for measuring the broad impact of the sciences: mentions of scholarly papers in policy-related documents. “As you might have already learned from our June press release announcing the launch of Altmetric for Institutions, we recently started tracking some highly impactful new sources of attention: policy and guidance documents” (Liu 2014).
The definition of societal impact given by Wilsdon et al. (2015) shows the potential use of mentions of scholarly papers in policy-related documents: “Research has a societal impact when auditable or recorded influence is achieved upon non-academic organisation(s) or actor(s) in a sector outside the university sector itself—for instance, by being used by one or more business corporations, government bodies, civil society organisations, media or specialist/professional media organisations or in public debate. As is the case with academic impacts, societal impacts need to be demonstrated rather than assumed. Evidence of external impacts can take the form of references to, citations of or discussion of a person, their work or research results” (p. 6). Non-academic organizations or actors are often authors of policy documents. Therefore, the newly provided source by Altmetric (mentions of scholarly papers in policy-related documents) might be valuable for the assessment of societal impact.
In this short communication, we test the scope and informative value of the newly provided altmetrics. As a first empirical analysis on a large publication set, we study how mentions of policy-related documents are distributed of scientific fields. We also analyze how many papers published since 2000 have received at least one policy-related mention.