Research metrics are ambiguous — a paper may be cited for positive or negative reasons. Funding agencies and universities focus on positive impact in evaluating research, which increasingly includes alternative metrics ('altmetrics'; see Nature 493, 159 and Nature 495, 437–440; 2013). We think that researchers can generate a more complete account of their impact by including seemingly negative indicators — such as confrontations with important people or legal action — as well as those that seem positive.

To explore this idea, we at the Center for the Study of Interdisciplinarity discussed ways to evaluate the impact of our research activities. We began with common quantitative indicators of scholarly impact (number and place of publications, citation indexing measures, number and size of grant awards, and so on). Warming to our theme, we came up with several other possible indicators, including negative ones (see table for examples and for a complete list).

Table 1 Other possible indicators of impact

In this age of increasing demand for accountability, we believe that academics ought to own the impact of their research, rather than have it determined by someone else.