In the olden days, just a few days ago, the measure of impact of a scientific research report was the citation index. Citation is when a scientific report gets cited by other scientific reports. That shows how important a new finding is in the view of other working scientists. Now thanks to the internet, you can measure the impact of scientific reports by watching Facebook and Twitter. This new game is called altmetric. Altmetric calculates scholarly impact by gathering data from the internet, from things like social media, online news media, online reference managers, etc.., things like my column here in the Daily Times. It demonstrates both the impact and detailed composition of the impact. But altmetrics that show lots of attention or engagement by the World Wide Web does not measure the quality of the impact on the progress of science. The Altmetric score is a proprietary altmetric. (2) If we look at the scientific articles with the top 100 Altmetric scores from this past year, most were related to nutrition, diet, or obesity and were garbage. For example, many widely disseminated articles were about diet patterns or coffee drinking. Things that have a very small and equivocal real impact. (3)
Influencing altmetrics winds up being a thing that can be used by the Russians to screw us up by helping us screw ourselves up.
Public health messages need to focus on things that really work and that are uncontested. Things like don’t smoke or quit smoking, exercise regularly, don’t drink alcohol in excess and get your sleep. Also, don’t eat too much and fight obesity, but I argue that that’s a more contentious subject. The media should do a better job of broadcasting topics and interventions that are reputable. Most of all, everybody should stay in school and learn how science works to avoid sensationalizing and being waylaid by fake news.
3. Ionnidis JPA. Neglecting major health problems and broadcasting minor, uncertain issues in lifestyle science. JAMA December 3, 2019;322(21):2069-70.
John DiTraglia M.D. is a Pediatrician in Portsmouth. He can be reached by e-mail- firstname.lastname@example.org or phone-354-6605.