Interview with Fereshteh Didegah

iSchool, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

When Fereshteh Didegah was working on her PhD project in 2014, she focused mainly on issues related to citations. "Afterwards, I thought, ‘There has to be a better way to assess the value of research. Relying solely on citations isn’t good enough,’” she says. “I wanted to be able to look at a larger picture, particularly to measure the social impacts of academic research."

One promising way emerged in a subsequent project in Finland, where she discovered article-level attention metrics, and saw potential value in combining that web-based input from social media and other sources with traditional indicators of research success.

Didegah’s passion for going beyond citations was further fueled when she joined the faculty of the Information (i) School at the University of British Columbia, and introduced a course on scholarly communication. "I developed the course from scratch, the students loved it -and then something very exciting happened," she recalls. "The students started to criticize citation-based indicators and standard bibliometrics just like I did, and we had great discussions about this. I knew I had to go further."

Didegah did a deep dive into science communication on Twitter, and found that while in principle, it was a good platform for creating interaction between researchers and the public, in fact, Twitter users rarely added thoughts or questions about the research to their tweets, and in reality, bots and clone accounts were doing a lot of the tweeting.

Turning to Facebook, she identified other limitations, including that researchers can’t access private posts, and public posts weren’t sufficient to gauge the impact of a research-related story. And when reviewing blogs, she found few mentions of scientific publications.

Therefore, Didegah’s current focus is mainly on health forums, which generally are not included in article-level attention metrics. In a pilot project at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia, her team tracked mentions of research articles by members of the public and experts on the diabetes platform on upwellbeing (formerly Diabetes Connect). Although the forum has more than a million active members, with some 1,200 experts who go online daily and respond to questions, the number of diabetes research papers mentioned on the site was relatively small. Thus, the team will be exploring additional forums, particularly those based outside of the US/UK, to combine and assess the value of such input.

As an ICSR board member, Didegah looks forward to further discussing bibliometrics and the potential added value of article-level attention metrics with her colleagues, with a view towards collaboration in evaluating current citation indicators and working to develop new ones in the future.

Fereshteh Didegah is a lecturer at the iSchool, University of British Columbia in Vancouver, and a research associate at the Scholarly Communication Lab, Simon Fraser University, where she is collaborating in a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council-funded project on understanding the societal impact of research through social media. She completed her PhD in Statistical Cybermetrics at the University of Wolverhampton, UK. In her PhD thesis, she applied advanced statistical tests to model factors that help authors to increase the citation impact of their research. Currently, she is focusing on enhancing interactions between academics and lay people to better communicate about research.