These are the 20 most popular academic papers of 2016

Alternative metrics find that research from Barack Obama received the most online attention this year

December 14, 2016
Barack Obama
Source: iStock

Barack Obama’s research on US healthcare reform – the first academic article to be published by a sitting US president – has topped a list of the most popular online papers of the year.

The article, “United States health care reform: progress to date and next steps”, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in July, took pole position in a top 100 list compiled by Altmetric, a London start-up that tracks and analyses the online activity around scholarly literature.

The paper from the outgoing US president resulted in the highest Altmetric “attention score” ever tracked, 8,063, compared with a score of 4,912 for the second-most popular article.

The term “altmetrics” describes the practice of rating papers using “alternative metrics”, such as mentions on social media networking sites, rather than, for example, citations in other journals.

Other research that caught the public’s attention in 2016 includes an article on medical errors being the third leading cause of death in the US (second), a paper on mastering the board game Go (ninth), and a report finding that the ease with which we tell lies grows with repetition (18th).

The top 20 most popular academic papers of 2016

  1. United States health care reform: progress to date and next steps 
  2. Medical error – the third leading cause of death in the US
  3. Observation of gravitational waves from a binary black hole merger
  4. Evidence for a distant giant planet in the solar system
  5. Sugar industry and coronary heart disease research: a historical analysis of internal industry documents
  6. Zika virus and birth defects – reviewing the evidence for causality
  7. The association between income and life expectancy in the United States, 2001-2014
  8. Effect of wearable technology combined with a lifestyle intervention on long-term weight loss  
  9. Mastering the game of Go with deep neural networks and tree search
  10. The new world atlas of artificial night sky brightness
  11. Evidence for a limit to human lifespan
  12. The terrorist inside my husband’s brain
  13. The antibody aducanumab reduces Aβ plaques in Alzheimer’s disease
  14. Trends in adult body-mass index in 200 countries from 1975 to 2014
  15. Contribution of Antarctica to past and future sea-level rise
  16. Does physical activity attenuate, or even eliminate, the detrimental association of sitting time with mortality?
  17. Human commensals producing a novel antibiotic impair pathogen colonization
  18. The brain adapts to dishonesty
  19. The third international consensus definitions for sepsis and septic shock (sepsis-3)
  20. Zika virus associated with microcephaly

The full top 100 list, along with more information about the methodology, is available at

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