The research articles that got the most online attention in 2023

Altmetric 500 list analyses attention paid to scholarly articles across 11 different sources, including news articles, citations, Wikipedia pages and X/Twitter posts

June 25, 2024
Source: iStock/ Urupong

A paper examining whether plants “scream”, a study on how to detect Covid-19 vaccines in breast milk, and a controversial retracted superconductor experiment were among the research that gathered the most online attention last year, it has been revealed.

The Altmetric 500 list, which now covers over 50 research categories, shows that the coronavirus pandemic and climate change again carry great significance in the research ecosystem.

Digital Science, the technology company behind the list, analysed the attention for scholarly articles published in 2023 across 11 different attention sources, including news articles, citations, Wikipedia pages and X/Twitter posts.

Top of the list for 2023 was a paper co-authored by researchers across six different universities on the ability of physical interventions to interrupt or reduce the spread of respiratory viruses.

This was followed by two other studies on coronavirus, including one from New York University Langone Hospital on the detection of Covid-19 vaccines in breast milk, and another by the Scripps Research Institute on the major findings and recommendations for long Covid.

Cat Williams, managing director of Digital Science’s data and analytics hub, told Times Higher Education that she expects to see data on coronavirus “evolving” within the next few years.

“I would think within the next year or two we’ll see the research conversation moving on.

“Obviously, big topics like that which have huge public health impacts often dominate so it may not be Covid, but it may be a continuation of the research strengths that have been started there.”

Other Covid-19 related papers in the top 10 included a risk-benefit assessment of the vaccine boosters for young adults at universities, one on a case of fatal multi-organ inflammation following a vaccination, and another about complications from the vaccine.

There were two research papers related to climate change in the top 10, including a study on the change in Antarctic ice shelf area, and a paper on how the earth was “entering uncharted territory” in 2023.

Ms Williams said climate issues are rising near the top of the agenda for a lot of organisations. “That is reflected in the work that they’re doing – both to invest in doing research in that space but also to promote it and ensure that it’s reaching the right people and the right networks.”

Rounding off the top 10 was a paper which tested to see if the sounds that plants emit when stressed reveal anything about their type and condition, and an experiment which claimed it had discovered a superconductor.

The controversial Korean paper, which hailed the world-first achievement of producing a superconductor which worked at room temperature and at everyday pressure, gained a lot of attention online before it was later retracted.

Ms Williams said papers which are later retracted or have errors often appear near the top of the lists because that generates a lot of conversation in itself.

“But I think it’s a really valuable part of our data that we’re not just reflecting necessarily good research, what we’re doing is really reflecting the public and the wider discourse that goes on around that research,” she added.

The full data – which provides a new way of exploring the different meanings of “attention to research” – also showed that Harvard University featured most frequently across the 500 categories in 2023, with 12 top articles. This was followed by the University of Oxford, with 11, and the University of Toronto, with nine.

In addition, Springer Nature was the most influential publisher last year with 81 category-leading publications, recorded ahead of Elsevier (53) and Taylor & Francis (48).

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