In a recent post, the news team for the leading journal Science took a look at the top 50 science stars of Twitter. The inspiration for this story was the amusing proposal by genomicist Neil Hall for the “Kardashian Index” (or K-index) – a comparison of a scientist’s popularity on Twitter to their impact through traditional citation metrics – named after the reality TV star Kim Kardashian.
Hall’s good-humored suggestion in proposing the K-index was that scientists should take note of discrepancies that might exist between their popular profiles and publication records so that they can identify when “it’s time to get off Twitter and write those papers.”
So, why would a serious researcher ever consider taking the plunge to become a bona fide member of the Twitter community?
In her article, Science writer Jia You notes from speaking with researchers that the social media platform can offer a number of benefits. First, most of the “Science Kardashians” that make up the top 50, many of whom will be instantly recognizable, devote the vast majority of their tweets to communicating science in a way that is more accessible to the public than the academic journal article. Beyond its use as a medium for public outreach, Twitter provides an informal way for researchers to be reviewed by and increase engagement with their peers, by tweeting presentations and papers to followers, gauging reactions, and addressing criticisms. Furthermore, researchers on Twitter can use it both as an outlet for staying up-to-date with the work of others and also for spreading the latest news about their own projects to attract greater attention to their work.
Twitter, then, is one of many social media venues for demonstrating a commitment to public outreach, engaging with peers in the research community, and promoting one’s own work. It will never replace the impact that researchers can make by publishing in peer-reviewed journals, nor should it. Rather, it provides a way of expanding that impact through an alternative platform that ultimately reaches a wider, more diverse audience.
The dynamic landscape of research communication is reflected in the fact that impact is now not only measurable through traditional citation metrics but also through a growing body of alternative metrics, or altmetrics, that take into account a researcher’s contributions via posts on websites, social media, and elsewhere. Check out our Measuring your Impact page to learn more about evaluating and increasing research impact through both traditional and alternative metrics.
And before you know it, you might be calculating your own Kardashian Index!