Holy Carnitine! @Altmetric Is On To Something Big!

In our previous article, we talked about a ranking list done by Altmetric of the most popular research articles of 2013. An interesting anecdotal story at the Reference desk just a couple of days after publishing the article, I think, gives strong confirmation of the validity of the Altmetric ranking.

As I was working at the Reference desk, a library patron using a workstation in the reference area [who turned out to be Charles Rebouche, see more below] asked for help with a printing problem he was having. As I approached his station I couldn’t help noticing that the article he was trying to print was on Carnitine, which happened to be a prominent subject of one of the articles that was on the Altmetric ranking. I was especially struck when I noticed this because before I saw the Altmetric ranking list in December, I had never heard of carnitine. As I learned in writing about the Altmetric ranking though, it turns out that carnitine is an ingredient of red meat (and also many energy drinks) that’s implicated in new research as a possible contributor to cardiovascular disease.

After the patron’s printing problem was resolved, I talked to him about his interest in carnitine. Interestingly, I learned that he’s an emeritus faculty member who has spent much of his career on researching carnitine. I told him about my work with the Altmetric list, and about the article that was ranked as being one of the most popular research articles of 2013. He knew all about the surge in popularity of the subject that accompanied the article, he said, because he’s been asked to “come out of retirement” to do a presentation about carnitine, which is why he was in the library catching up on the latest research.

So, on one level, a cute, satisfying story about the rewards of working at the Reference desk. But beyond that, I think this little story shows that the Altmetric ranking is more than an abstract application of “big data,” that Altmetric popularity does indeed have a real effect that’s felt by real researchers!

[Dr. Rebouche has read and approved of this article. He has indeed done voluminous research on carnitine, as attested by his 41 PubMed citations!]