Research connected to life can boost social media visibility

Aligning research with socially relevant problems or issues that are globally relevant can help boost social media visibility of Indian research, a study[PDF]0 bytes published in the journal Current Science has said.

The study by researchers from Banaras Hindu University (BHU), Varanasi, South Asian University, New Delhi, and Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences, Germany, explored how scholarly research output from India is covered on different social media platforms. The study which was supported by the Department of Science and Technology also compared India’s trends with that of the international situation.

“Social media attention on research is found to be an early predictor of the impact of research. While citations to an article take some time to accrue, social media attention is quick and more widespread,” said Vivek Kumar Singh, the lead author of the study from BHU’s Department of Computer Science.

Analysing the extent of social media coverage of research from India could help in at least two ways, said Singh.

“One, it can aid in estimating how many citations the corresponding research articles may get in the next three to five years, and secondly, it can help gauge how closely connected the research is to the society,” said Singh.

Since a significant amount of research funding in India comes from public funds, it would be reasonable to expect that the research outcomes are helpful in improving the lives of individuals in the country and contribute to national development, the researcher explained.

The Department of Science and Technology’s Scientific Social Responsibility Policy [PDF]0 bytesdraft also advocates the use of social media to communicate by translating important research problems and/or the findings of the research work into popular science.

For the study, the researchers mined data from two sources: Web of Science (WoS) and Altmetric for the year 2016.

Web of Science is a publisher-independent global citation database. Altmetric is a data repository that collates attentions and mentions about scholarly articles from a wide range of online social networks and media such as Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, LinkedIn, online news, blogs and information aggregators like Reddit among others.

Elaborating on the basis for selecting Web of Science and Altmetric for data gathering, Singh said, ”In Indian institutions (and also those across the world), only the  research results published in journals that are indexed in Web of Science are counted for tenure and promotion evaluation of researchers”.

“Also, the journals in Web of Science get an annual impact factor and have higher academic reputation and visibility than other journals. India's overall contribution to the global share of research as indexed in Web of Science is about five percent. Altmetric, being an aggregator, is one of the best sources for collecting social media coverage data of research results,” said Singh.

The study analysed 76,621 papers published from India for 2016 against around 1.46 million papers from the world.

The publication records were tagged under 14 broad disciplines: agriculture, arts and humanities, biology, chemistry, engineering, environmental science, geology, information sciences, material science, mathematics, medical science, multidisciplinary, physics, and social science.

The study found that overall social media coverage of research output from India is 28.5 percent, which is significantly lower than the world average of 46.7 percent.

“This means that research output from India is getting 18 percent lesser social media attention than the world average. It may indicate the relatively lower impact of research output from India. Perhaps Indian researchers are not trying hard to work towards more challenging problems that may achieve major research breakthroughs,” said Singh.

Another related factor may be the lower global visibility of Indian research.

“Since social media penetration in India is less than 30 percent (i.e. only 30 out of 100 people in India access social media platforms), it could be that a good amount of social media attention to Indian research may be coming from people across the globe,” pointed out Singh.

This he said may be related to the nature of the research results which may not be reflected in the papers to be very significant for the society, Singh added.

As for the discipline-wise variations of social media coverage, the study found that some fields like medical science, biology, and multidisciplinary research get more social media attention compared to disciplines like engineering, mathematics and information science.

This pattern of discipline-wise variations in social media coverage of research output from India is consistent with the worldwide pattern.

On Twitter, biology, multidisciplinary research and medicine have the highest coverage. Multidisciplinary research has the highest coverage on Facebook followed by social science, medicine, and agriculture.

“One reason as to why research output from medicine, biology and multidisciplinary science gets higher social media coverage is  because these disciplines are more connected with the daily lives of people compared to other fields like engineering, mathematics, and information science which are more specialised and technical in nature, and may not be easily understood by common people,” observed Singh.

Further, much higher publication volume of medicine, biology and multidisciplinary research and a large number of researchers producing these outputs could be another factor, as it results in higher chances of being covered on social media platforms.

How can researchers enhance social media visibility of their research?

“One simple strategy could be to deposit the papers (pre-prints or post-prints) in disciplinary or institutional repositories (like arXiv). It is reported in several studies that articles that are available in open access attract relatively more social media attention. A more involved and long-term approach would be to work on challenging problems that help in solving our society's problems or perhaps to work on problems that are globally relevant,” added Singh.

While it is challenging to integrate the findings of the study into policy, Singh suggests both bibliometric and altmetric impact data could augment evidence-based research funding.

“Further, institutions should adopt social media platforms and come with clean social media policies so that research results coming out from their researchers could be disseminated well and widely. India now accounts for the largest number of Facebook users in the world and Twitter usage is also very high. Our institutions cannot simply remain indifferent to these platforms,” stressed Singh.

A suitable mechanism (involving professionals) should be created in institutions for promoting productive use of social media and sensitising scientists and researchers about their social responsibilities, added Singh.

Funding: The study acknowledges the enabling support provided by the Indo-German Joint Research Project titled ‘Design of a sciento-text computational framework for retrieval and contextual recommendations of high-quality scholarly articles’ (Grant No. DST/INT/FRG/DAAD/P-28/2017) for this work.

Written by Sahana Ghosh, Science & Environmental Journalist