Examining the Correlation Between Altmetric Score and Citations in the General Surgery Literature

J Surg Res. 2020 Apr:248:159-164. doi: 10.1016/j.jss.2019.11.008. Epub 2020 Jan 2.


Background: With the emergence of social media platforms, new bibliometric profiles measuring impact and exposure of scientific research online have been introduced as an alternative to traditional bibliometric outcomes. The objective of this article is to evaluate relationships between Altmetric scores, journal impact factor, and citation counts among the surgical literature.

Methods: We analyzed the top 10 highest cited articles for the 10 general surgery journals with the highest impact factors for 2013 and 2016 by noting citation counts and Altmetric scores for each article. We also identified the journal impact factor and age of journal associated Twitter accounts. Variables were assessed for correlation using Pearson's correlation testing via Microsoft Excel.

Results: A total of 240 articles were analyzed. For 2013, Altmetrics score analysis demonstrated a significant, positive correlation with citation number (r = 0.462, P < 0.0001) and journal impact factor (r = 0.439, P < 0.0001). The 2016 cohort also demonstrated significant, positive correlations between Altmetric scores and citation count after the removal of one outlier (r = 0.182, P = 0.047) and journal impact factor when considering all articles (r = 0.425, P < 0.0001). From 2013 to 2016, the total number of citations for all articles decreased from 11,027 to 7661, but cumulative Altmetric scores increased from 1078 to 4782. Age of creation for a journal's Twitter account did not significantly affect Altmetric score or traditional bibliometric measures in either 2013 (r = 0.370, P = 0.293) or 2016 (r = 0.441, P = 0.202).

Conclusions: Altmetric scores, while significantly associated with citation count in the surgical literature, should not necessarily be used as a surrogate marker for evaluating research performance, impact, or exposure. It is possible, however, that as the use of social media for distributing and sharing scientific research continues to expand, that exposure on such platforms could impact future interest or studies.

Keywords: Altmetric; Bibliometric; Citations; Peer-review; Social media.

MeSH terms

  • Bibliometrics*
  • General Surgery*
  • Periodicals as Topic*