The Most-Shared Science of 2012
According to the number of links in social media, some of the top most-discussed science this year had to do with eating habits, coffee, the Fukushima disaster and the U.S. political races.
It looks like the keys to getting attention in the lab are the same as in the news.
Food, sex and rock-n-roll were the subjects of the most talked-about science studies on the Internet this year, according to Altmetric, a company that measures online buzz about scholarly research.
Science studies are actually a sort of pioneer in social metrics. Long before Facebook and Twitter, science journals began measuring the importance of individual papers by how often other papers cited them. Highly cited articles are considered more important and journals that frequently publish highly cited articles are considered more prestigious. That system inspired Google's famed PageRank algorithm, which uses how often a webpage gets linked to as one factor in deciding what search results to show.
Citations in papers get published much more slowly than blog posts, tweets or clicks on an article, however. So several companies are looking to measure importance in new ways by tracking digital "citations" for papers, too. Such metrics might be a more accurate way of seeing what kinds of science people are talking about in real time.
Altmetric, a startup based in London, tracks every time somebody links to a scientific paper in a public post, such as a tweet, a Reddit mention or a news article. Altmetric's resulting list of the top 10 papes of 2012, originally published in Nature News, includes some catchy titles, including "Measuring the evolution of contemporary western popular music" and "Food for thought. What you eat depends on your sex and eating companions."
Others top-10 papers involved news events, such as a paper published 16 years ago about pregnancies resulting from rape. People took to sharing the paper after U.S. Senate nominee Todd Akin implied in a quote that rape victims can't get pregnant. Another popular paper examined the effect of the Fukushima disaster on a butterfly species. Although the nuclear accident occurred in March 2011 — and may have faded from the consciousness of many — it is still important to Japanese people, who made up two-thirds of the people sharing the butterfly article.
Alternative measures of papers' impact such as Altmetric's are still new and may be working out some kinks, the Nature News Blog wrote. Nature News asked three companies, including Altmetric, to put together a list of the year's top 10 papers. The three companies, which all use different measurements, came up with 30 entirely different papers.