Bengaluru Oct 3, 2019, (Research Matters):
About three hundred million and racing towards a billion! Yes, that’s the number of Facebook users in India, the highest in any country. With the number of Internet users in the country projected to reach 627 million in 2019, Indians are increasing their footprints in most social media platforms. However, there seems to be one crucial community, who should, but may have not yet caught on to this trend—our scientists. If the results of a new study are any indication, Indian research coverage on social media has a lot to catch up!
In a recent study, published in the journal Current Science, researchers from Banaras Hindu University (BHU), Varanasi, South Asian University, New Delhi, and Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences, Germany, have studied how much attention Indian research gets on social media. Today, many scholarly articles are shared by researchers on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Research Gate, Academia and Mendeley throughout the world. However, this study found that just about 28.5% of the total research output from India is covered on these platforms, which is about 18% less than the global average.
“The main motivation of the study was to explore how much and what kind of research output from India is getting discussed in social media platforms. These numbers could be an indirect indicator of the relevance of Indian research to the society,” says Prof Vivek Kumar Singh, the lead author of the study, from BHU.
“Social media coverage, in a way, shows the connectivity between research and society,” he argues.
The researchers gathered data from two sources, Web of Science (WoS) and Altmetric, for the year 2016, for their study. WoS is a collection of databases that provide citation data for a particular research paper. Altmetric tracks the online mentions of published research on platforms like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, online news, blogs, news aggregators and Wikipedia.
“Research papers that get greater social media attention are also generally more cited in the future. Thus, altmetric could be an early indicator of the impact of research,” explains Prof Singh.
The study analysed about 76,000 papers from India published during this period and compared it with about 1.5 million papers from all over the world. It categorised each of them into one of the 14 research disciplines. These included agriculture, arts and humanities, biology, chemistry, engineering, environmental science, geology, information sciences, material science, mathematics, medical science, multidisciplinary, physics and social science.
The findings showed that only 28.5% of the research papers, about 3 in 10, were included in altmetric.com, indicating coverage in various social media platforms. Mendeley had the highest coverage, followed by Attention Score, Twitter and Facebook. In comparison, about 47%, or nearly 1 in 2 research papers in the world, were covered by altmetrics.com.
Figure 1: Comparison of coverage of research papers from India and the world [Data Source]
The study also found an interesting pattern in the coverage based on the various disciplines. Some disciplines, like medicine, biology, environmental science and social science, had higher coverage than engineering and physics. This pattern was consistent with research papers all over the world. Twitter, for example, had extensive coverage of studies in biology, multidisciplinary and medicine. On Facebook, multidisciplinary ranked the highest. Papers in biology, multidisciplinary and medicine were on top in Mendeley and News Mention. Mathematics, information science and engineering studies lagged in their coverage across platforms.
The only exception to this trend was on Research Gate, a social networking site for scientists and researchers, which is not captured in altmetrics.com. Here, geology had the highest coverage, followed by multidisciplinary, agriculture and social sciences.
Why do we have such differences across disciplines? “Research in areas like medicine and biology have a close connection to the well-being of individuals,” reasons Prof Singh on the observed trends.
“Research in fields like physics and engineering is more difficult for the layperson to follow and understand,” he says.
But, what about fields like information science and computer science, which have tremendous contributions to the very existence of social media platforms?
“Perhaps, research papers in these areas are not directly trying to solve our national problems. It could also be that they are not changing the way the society can benefit from modern breakthroughs,” he opines.
Besides, the volume of research publications in disciplines like biology and medicine far exceeds engineering research output in India and across the world. “There is a more critical mass of researchers in these areas as compared to other fields, which in turn helps in attracting higher social participation,” remarks Dr Singh.
The researchers believe that their findings of the inadequate coverage on Indian research also reflects the lesser penetration of social media platforms by researchers and readers in these areas. In the recent draft of the Scientific Social Responsibility, put forth by the Department of Science and Technology (DST), one of the activities advocated for the scientific community is to create awareness through mass media, including social media.
“The findings of our study imply that Indian research will have to explore more on direct connectivity to our social and national problems. Besides, the research output from India will need to be more qualitative, which impacts the know-how of the whole world,” suggests Prof Singh. “If we try to address problems which impact the daily lives of individuals and are novel, the social media attention is bound to rise,” he concludes.
Note: Seven researchers from public institutes, apart from the authors of this study, were contacted for their inputs on how they use social media to spread their research. However, at the time of publishing this article, there were no responses heard.
This article has been run past the researchers, whose work is covered, to ensure accuracy.