The academic papers of 2014 most cited by news and social media covered an astonishing range of topics, from science fraud, to black holes, to time travelers, according to Altmetric.com. But at 45%, the most popular papers by far were in health and medicine.
“The list takes into account all mentions and shares of articles published from November 2013 onwards in mainstream and social media, blogs, post-publication peer-review forums, bookmarking sites and platforms such as Reddit and YouTube,” Altmetric editors explained on the website. Nature produced 16 of the top 100; Science produced 11; Public Library of Science (PLOS) One produced 9; Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) produced 8, and the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) produced 4.
Of the top 100, 68 of the papers included authors from the U.S.; 19, the U.K.; 10, Canada; 11, Germany; 4, China; 9, South or Central America. The very top performing institutions tended to range from Harvard, to Harvard Medical School, to Harvard School of Public Health, as these were featured in 15 of the articles. But other institutions made a dent, too. The University of California school system authored 10 articles, and the U.K.’s University of Cambridge and University of Oxford authored 3.
The top articles
The top scoring paper, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) in June 2014, was the latest Facebook attempt to manipulate users by secret, strategic placement of “good” and “bad” news in their feeds to study responses: PNAS’ “Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks.” At least 3,668 outraged tweeters shared the URL of the study, which ultimately came to the less-than-astonishing conclusion that people are happy reading happy news, and sad reading sad news.
The 4th and 19th scoring papers were at the heart of the Riken Institute/Harvard University “acid bath” stem cell scandal. Published by Nature, both papers described making extraordinary stem cells out of ordinary cells by simply dipping them in acid. Both were retracted within months of publication, after investigatory committees discovered that data had been manipulated to such a degree that it amounted to “scientific misconduct” on the part of the lead author. A minimum of 4,391 tweets were expended on—what turned out to be—these non-existent stem cells. (Undoubtedly in reaction to the above, the 50th top scoring paper of 2014 was PLOS Medicine’s “How to make more published research true.”)
The 8th top scoring paper was self-published. It was titled, “Searching the internet for evidence of time travelers,” and was thus rejected by peer-reviewed journals. It was, however, warmly embraced by at least 2,189 tweeters, 267 Facebook users, 52 Google+ users, and 29 mainstream news outlets. The paper’s lead author did not regret the time he and his student spent coming to the—once again, not earth-shattering—news that time travelers may not exist.
“Overall I am glad we did this project,” Michigan Technological University physics professor Robert Nemiroff told Drug Discovery & Development. Their goal was as direct as their title—they were “just looking for evidence of time travel. Afterwards, we realized that our null results also indicated the future is unknowable using any method (clairvoyance, crystal balls, what-have-you), not just time travel.”
He added cryptically, “Of course, all we found was an indication, not proof.” The cheerful physicist directs the curious to an article he did get published—on the making of the paper, and its aftermath.
Other less-than-paradigm-shifting papers were number 6 (the British Medical Journal’s, “The survival time of chocolates on hospital wards: covert observational study”); number 14 (Current Biology’s “Female Penis, Male Vagina, and Their Correlated Evolution in a Cave Insect”); number 29 (PNAS’ “Female hurricanes are deadlier than male hurricanes”); and most frivolously, if most delightfully, number 10 (the British Medical Journal’s “Were James Bond’s drinks shaken because of alcohol induced tremor?”)
The conclusion of the latter paper: “Yes.”
But much of the year’s more weighty science news also made the top 100. The weightiest was number 11, Science’s “Genomic surveillance elucidates Ebola virus origin and transmission during the 2014 outbreak.” Five of the co-authors on this paper, which helped scientists worldwide gain an understanding of the deadly virus, died of the disease before publication.
Other more serious science topics included the sensitivity of dogs to variations in earth’s magnetic field (5), black holes (16), brain-to-brain communication with non-invasive technology (9), a semi-synthetic organism with an expanded genetic alphabet (22), young blood reversing age-related cognitive decline (30), a randomized trial of low-carb diets (32), the non-link between vaccines and autism (40), reversion of Ebola with ZMapp (44), an ice sheet collapse in Antarctica (51), low protein intake and cancer reduction (53), sex differences in the brain connectome (56), oxytocin and the neural reward system (70), Vitamin D and Alzheimer’s (71), alcohol and cognitive decline in middle-aged men (75), Neanderthal genes in modern humans (76), Pleistocene cave art (79), breast cancer risk and PALB2 mutations (87), vitamin E and Alzheimer’s (93) the amount of carbon emission reduction needed to protect future generations (94), and creating insulin-producing cells with embryonic stem cells (99).
The 2014 Top 100 Altmetric list is here.
Filed Under: Drug Discovery