In the academic world, citations matter. But thanks to the internet, the public is increasingly engaging with science too, and that doesn’t just mean reading science news, but actually looking at published research as well.
Each year, the London-based analytics company Altmetric releases a ranking of the 100 most popular research articles that year, according to their data.
Rather than just looking at how research performs within academic circles, Altmetric casts the net much more widely and looks at how much online attention studies get – resulting in an indication of what the public has paid attention to.
“We track what people are saying about scholarly articles on social media networks, in the news, on blogs, Wikipedia and many other sources, then give each one a score – the Altmetric Attention Score,” the company states.
After filtering out opinion pieces and editorials, here are the top 10 studies from their ranking, captured over the past year between 15 November 2016 and 2017.
10. An extra-uterine system to physiologically support the extreme premature lamb
Published in Nature Communications, it’s that story about a baby lamb in a plastic bag. The bag was actually an artificial womb that helped bring late-stage lambs to term, keeping them alive and developing outside the uterus for several weeks.
This amazing technology could one day save the lives of prematurely born babies as well, so it’s well worth our attention.
9. Efficacy and effectiveness of an rVSV-vectored vaccine in preventing Ebola virus disease: final results from the Guinea ring vaccination, open-label, cluster-randomised trial (Ebola Ça Suffit!)
This study from The Lancet was published late last year, reflecting a major success for a large international team. What that paper title doesn’t tell you is that we finally have an Ebola vaccine that’s up to 100 percent effective!
“When the next outbreak hits, we will not be defenceless,” lead researcher Marie-Paule Kieny said in December 2016.
8. A Feathered Dinosaur Tail with Primitive Plumage Trapped in Mid-Cretaceous Amber
Says it all right there. While it’s not the first time we’ve found a feather trapped in amber, it was the first time scientists could definitively link it to a dinosaur, advancing our understanding of the creatures we typically just find as unfeathery fossils.
7. Worldwide trends in body-mass index, underweight, overweight, and obesity from 1975 to 2016: a pooled analysis of 2416 population-based measurement studies in 128·9 million children, adolescents, and adults
As the Altmetric summary explains, “this study found that obesity amongst children and adults has risen tenfold globally in the last 40 years.”
This large-scale trend study published in The Lancet followed in the footsteps of a similarly startling finding by the same research collaboration last year, which showed that we now have more obese than skinny people worldwide.
6. More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas
In other words, flying bugs seem to be dying in hordes much more rapidly than we previously thought, and it’s a cause for worry.
The authors of this PLOS One study waded through records of 27 years’ worth of insects collected in German nature reserves, noting a seasonal average biomass drop of 76 percent. The fact this decline happened in environmentally protected areas makes it all the more alarming.
5. Gender stereotypes about intellectual ability emerge early and influence children’s interests
This study, published in Science in January showed that girls even as young as six years old associate being “really, really smart” with men more than with women – and that stereotype could have a life-long impact on their education choices.
We’re not surprised that this made it all the way to top five, given the huge implications for our society as a whole.
“These beliefs that seem to be present even in young children are the beginning of what might exclude girls from some of the most prestigious jobs in our society,” senior author Andrei Cimpian said in January.
4. Correction of a pathogenic gene mutation in human embryos
With media reports leaking the results ahead of the publication in Nature, this major CRISPR breakthrough gave us a glimpse of a controversial new era in medicine, although the team said they considered their results fairly basic.
It was the first time gene editing on human embryos took place in the US. A team of researchers used the gene-snipping technique to target the MYBPC3 gene, responsible for a congenital and deadly heart condition.
The results also sparked renewed discussions over how best to regulate this technology, since sometimes the products of gene editing have potential to be passed down for generations.
3. Comparison of Hospital Mortality and Readmission Rates for Medicare Patients Treated by Male vs Female Physicians
Additionally, they also had fewer re-admissions to the hospital, although the data set couldn’t explain what’s responsible for this difference.
“These findings indicate that potential differences in practice patterns between male and female physicians may have important clinical implications,” lead author Yusuke Tsugawa said back in December last year.
2. Work organization and mental health problems in PhD students
This study was published in Research Policy in May, getting a lot of attention for highlighting an alarming trend – people working on attaining that highest of academic degrees experience significant psychological distress.
According to representative sample of Belgian PhD students, 32 percent of them were at risk of having or developing a psychiatric disorder – especially depression.
“The prevalence of mental health problems is higher in PhD students than in the highly educated general population, highly educated employees and higher education students,” the research concluded. Yikes.
1. Associations of fats and carbohydrate intake with cardiovascular disease and mortality in 18 countries from five continents (PURE): a prospective cohort study
Yet another piece from The Lancet with a catchy title, this study compared the diets of 135,000 people from 18 countries. The result? Low-fat diets were associated with a higher likelihood of heart attacks and heart disease.
Meanwhile, low-carb diets appeared to be significantly healthier, just once more affirming the notion that dietary fat is not the enemy, while excess sugar definitely causes harm.
“Global dietary guidelines should be reconsidered in light of these findings,” the researchers wrote in the paper.
You can peruse the whole Altmetrics top 100 in 2017 list here.