The Cozzarelli Prize was just awarded to some excellent researchers who published last year in PNAS. The first was on the timeline for the Permian mass extinction. I turned to that paper and saw at the bottom of the page a very interesting graphic on the paper’s impact online. I wish I could copy it here, but can’t, so you’ll have to go to the paper itself. It is a kind of colored braid that shows the paper was picked up by 20 news outlets, 5 blogs, 55 tweets, 8 Facebook pages, 1Reddit, 31 on Mendeley, and 1 on CiteULike. In other places they list things like downloads.
What to do with this information? The responses I hear in discussions fall into two camps. Older people tend not to care at all. Younger people are obsessed with this and worry about how to get their work more attention. The answer should be the same for both scientific communities. Do your best work and publish it carefully and clearly. Don’t salami science each little bit. Wait until you have a full story, then tell it clearly and in context.
A bit of salesmanship is fine, but be sure you have a product worth selling. Educate yourself by looking at how papers you read do on these metrics. What soared? What slumped? Was it the science, the context, or the communication?