The June editorial in Nature Neuroscience (11, 619; 2008) discusses the relationship between web traffic and citations. The journal’s preliminary analysis indicates that the number of downloads a paper receives immediately following its appearance online correlates very well with its citation frequency years after publication. Noah Gray, one of the Nature Neuroscience editors, has written a post at Action Potential, the journal’s blog, to provide more of the details behind the data and analysis, and to initiate discussion. He writes (edited for length):
Everyone has their own pet problem with impact factors, but despite these concerns, these numbers are typically used to rate the importance or prominence of a particular journal, and thus by proxy, the importance of the individual papers published within. This is a seriously flawed use of association, leading scientists to often equate the total number of citations with scientific impact, which can be fraught with problems. Searching for an alternative measure of impact that is perhaps free of the “bias of authority” (citing a paper because it is from a famous lab) or the “lemming bias” (citing a paper just because everyone else seems to do so whenever broaching a particular subject) led us to explore readership….
The “number of downloads” measure potentially provides a piece of an alternative solution for deciphering the impact of an individual paper. In this current scientific climate where tenure and grant funding decisions are influenced by flawed metrics like impact factor, it is important to make good use of all available technology in an attempt to realize a better system of measuring the scientific impact of any particular paper. This analysis is obviously preliminary and flawed in its own ways, but perhaps metrics such as paper downloads can find a place in a compilation of aggregated stats, painting a more accurate and informative picture of manuscript influence.
Futher reading: Connotea bookmarks “citation”
Further reading: Connotea bookmarks “impact factor” : thanks to Bob O’Hara for this library.