That debate has been ongoing in the science community through January. The possibility hit a wider public when Alexis Madrigal raised it in The Atlantic a couple of days ago.
“The bottom line is simple: articles that many people tweeted about were 11 times more likely to be highly cited than those who few people tweeted about. Its implications are even more interesting. It generally takes months and years for papers to be cited by other scientific publications. Thus, on the day an article comes out, it would seem to be difficult to tell whether it will have a real impact on a given field. However, because the majority of tweets about journal articles occur within the first two days of publication, we now have an early signal about which research is likely to be significant.The relationship is not even marginal. 11x more likely is a huge influence. The research appeared in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, and was conducted by its editor Gunther Eysenbach.
However the data had already been challenged before The Atlantic article, both by a rebuttal – and by a suggestion that the research author had a vested interest in the results:
“What’s more, many of these counted tweets were not sent out by humans,” says Phil Davis at The Scholarly Kitchen after reviewing the data. “The Journal of Medical Internet Research sends out an automatic tweet when a paper first appears and then sends out monthly tweets to promote the journal’s most tweeted papers. Tweets promoting the journal’s most viewed, most purchased, and most cited articles (from Scopus and Google Scholar) are also sent out automatically, many of which are then retweeted by other tweet bots (and human bots) to the blogosphere.”Davis also points out that the work was not peer reviewed and that the journal editor had registered a number of domains (twimpact.org, twimpactfactor.org and twimpactfactor.com) that suggested he could make commercial advantage of this research, though Eysenbach had fully disclosed this possibility. More