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Frontiers research topic on tinnitus shows broad public appeal

Frontiers Research Topic on Tinnitus

More than 1 million views for tinnitus research topic in less than 2 years 

— By Dr. Christopher R. Cederroth, Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, Research Topic Editor

In recent years open-access online journals have become more and more important in scientific communication. Their main feature — free access to scientific publications — eases scientific exchange and democratizes research. Complete access to the latest scientific findings is no longer restricted to those with access to well-equipped libraries or who can afford expensive journal subscriptions. Instead, every researcher and interested person has the possibility to get the most recent information.

But online research platforms have another important feature that might have even more impact: shaping future research directions through measuring the societal impact of scientific articles.

Traditionally, the importance of scientific articles was mainly defined by the impact factor of the journal in which it was published. The decision of which articles are considered for publishing in these journals is taken by the editorial board. Publication in high-impact journals is still the main evaluation criterion in scientific careers as well as for the allocation of research money.

Thus, current research directions are mainly defined by a scientific elite. This practice has many merits, but is a very conservative approach. It favors established research fields and makes it difficult for new emerging research areas to attract funding and stabilize tenure tracks. Furthermore, this approach clearly favors the scientists’ perspectives over the public perspective — but since research resources originate mainly from taxpayers money, metrics that determine public relevance are desirable.

While conventional print journals could not precisely measure how frequently a scientific article was viewed, exact metrics are now available from online publishers. This makes it possible to assess the wider relevance and interest of a research article.

Frontiers, one of the most innovative open-access science platforms, extends this assessment to an entire research area. The publisher offers the possibility to publish papers from multiple disciplines as a research topic on a particular theme. Managed and disseminated on Frontiers’ customized online platform, these highly visible collections increase the discoverability and readership of articles both within and between different fields. More than 4,500 such research topics have currently been created, and all provide metrics on the number of views and shares.

Such metrics suggest that our recent research topic on tinnitus — Towards the heterogeneity of tinnitus — has a very broad scientific and public appeal. Initiated by the Tinnitus Research Initiative and the EU-funded TINNET project, the research topic includes articles from the fields of neuroscience, neurology, medicine, psychology, genetics and pharmacology. Opened on 18 February 2016, the combined article views for the topic recently passed the 1 million mark, with viewers coming from around the world. This is a major achievement for a niche research area.

Tinnitus, the phantom perception of sounds, is a severely underfunded research area, considering its socioeconomic impact. “The massive public interest in this research topic showcases that tinnitus is a highly relevant societal issue,” says Berthold Langguth from the Tinnitus Research Initiative, also Topic Editor.

The number of views was also boosted by a dissemination plan established by us, the editors, which included connecting with academic researchers as well as patient organizations. For instance, many of the articles from the research topic have been featured by the online patient forum Tinnitus Talk.

“Tinnitus sufferers are in such need of new treatments, they often want the most recent research as fast as scientists do,” says Dr. Winfried Schlee, chair of TINNET.

The success of this research topic shows that scientific articles on tinnitus are not only interesting for specialized researchers and clinicians, but also for a large public audience. We hope that this clear public interest will no longer be neglected in future decisions on research priorities.

The success also demonstrates the value of online, open science platforms. Such wide engagement of researchers, patient organizations and the public was only possible thanks to a sophisticated digital platform to connect disparate fields and interested people, and the ability for everyone to freely access, read and share each article. This powerful approach tremendously increases the impact of scientific research.


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