An academic paper that fed into a political row involving Donald Trump about how many people were killed by a hurricane in Puerto Rico has come top of a list of 2018’s most discussed research.
The study, which suggested that the death toll from Hurricane Maria in 2017 was much higher than official estimates, achieved the highest score in the Altmetric Top 100, which estimates the impact that scholarship has online.
The list is compiled by Altmetric, which uses a range of alternative metrics to journal citations to estimate online impact including mainstream news media references, Wikipedia citations, social media mentions and performance on post-publication peer review forums.
Articles are ranked using an Altmetric Attention Score, which is calculated by working out a weighted count of the amount of online activity achieved by each piece of research.
The Harvard University-led Hurricane Maria study preceded further research officially commissioned by the Puerto Rican government – carried out by George Washington University – which put the death toll at just under 3,000, something that was then contested by Mr Trump on Twitter. The Harvard paper was the most widely shared in the Altmetric Top 100’s six-year history.
Satchit Balsari, assistant professor in emergency medicine at Harvard Medical School and a co-author of the paper, said that the online and media attention achieved by the research was vitally important.
“Given the large difference in our mortality estimates and the official counts, it was gratifying to see that the media played its role in efficiently translating a scientific paper for mass consumption,” he said.
Ironically, given Mr Trump’s reaction to the increased death toll estimates, a study that looked at whether rumours or truth spread quicker online was the second-placed paper in the 2018 Altmetric list.
Other research in the top 10 included a large-scale study of the impacts of alcohol use on almost 200 countries; a dire warning about how climate change could spiral out of control; and research into how plastic is accumulating in the Pacific Ocean.
This year’s list has papers published in 47 different journals, with those in Science featuring more than any other (12 times). The University of Cambridge had the most affiliated papers (10 papers) of any institution, while more than half of the articles in the list were open access (41) or free to read (13).
The top 10 Altmetric articles of 2018 are:
- “Mortality in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria” (New England Journal of Medicine, July 2018)
- “The spread of true and false news online” (Science, March 2018)
- “Alcohol use and burden for 195 countries and territories, 1990–2016: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016” (The Lancet, September 2018)
- “Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene” (PNAS, August 2018)
- “Association between physical exercise and mental health in 1·2 million individuals in the USA between 2011 and 2015: a cross-sectional study” (The Lancet Psychiatry, September 2018)
- “Dietary carbohydrate intake and mortality: a prospective cohort study and meta-analysis” (The Lancet Public Health, September 2018)
- “Evidence that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is rapidly accumulating plastic” (Scientific Reports, March 2018)
- “Complementary Medicine, Refusal of Conventional Cancer Therapy, and Survival Among Patients With Curable Cancers” (JAMA Oncology, October 2018)
- “Global warming transforms coral reef assemblages” (Nature, April 2018)
- “The biomass distribution on Earth” (PNAS, May 2018)