Assessing the impact of academic research is not easy to do. There are several schools of thought and a lot of debate. Altmetric, a data science company, looked at how research studies are cited from other studies, by news outlets, in policy documents, as well as on social media. Armed with that data, they constructed this Top 100 list of research published in 2018.
Topping the list is the study that looked at the mortality rate in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. The work, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that the official death estimate by the US government was 70 times lower than the actual one. It's not surprising that this damning study of the US administration's response in the aftermath of Maria has been so widely shared.
The second study on the list is about false news. Researchers from MIT analyzed how 126,000 stories spread on Twitter by looking at 4.5 million tweets from 3 million people. Their finding showed that true news stories rarely diffuse beyond 1,000 people, while the top 1 percent of false news could spread to up to 100,000 people. The effect was significantly more pronounced for fake political news compared to fake news about terrorism, natural disasters, science, or finance.
The Bronze medal goes to a study on alcohol use in 195 countries, delivering an upsetting result to many – the only “safe” level of alcohol consumption is no alcohol at all. The study shows that drinking increases the relative risk of several conditions and that the health benefits of some alcohols do not outweigh this risk.
In the fourth spot is a paper that discusses the consequences of climate change. Titled “Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene”, it paints a bleak picture for our future: without major interventions to curb emissions, we might soon cross a point of no return. The study in fifth place is about how any amount of exercise can lead to improvements in mental health.
Of the top 100 studies, 44 of them were about medical and health science, 17 were about our planet and the environment, 11 were sociological, and nine came from the physical sciences. The papers come from 45 different journals, with 54 of them either open access or free for everyone to read.
The full list can be read here.