Research integrity papers among top 10 most shared in 2019

Altmetric list of scholarship getting the most online attention shows that authenticity in science, and society more generally, is major theme of the year

December 17, 2019
Social connections

Concerns about truth and authenticity that are currently at the core of many debates in science and society have had a major influence on a list of the top research articles gaining attention online in 2019.

Two of the highest placed papers in the Altmetric Top 100 list – which measures the impact of research on platforms like social media, online news and blogs – focus on research integrity issues.

They include a major call by hundreds of scientists in March to end the use of statistical significance as a way to back up claims in research, and a satirical paper that highlighted the potential problems with randomised controlled trials.

Even a medical paper in the top 10 was not a new breakthrough but further confirmatory evidence that the measles, mumps and rubella vaccination does not have a link to autism in children. 

Meanwhile, some of the other research making the list may reflect interest in fake news and the growing use of technology to blur the boundaries between reality and fiction.

For instance, the list was topped by an article that showed how artificial intelligence could allow computers to create realistic videos of talking heads from still portraits, even including famous pictures from the past such as the Mona Lisa. The paper, on the arXiv preprint repository, was the most widely shared in the seven years since Altmetric first compiled the list.

Another preprint paper placed at five in the list featured research into how an AI generator could create fake images.

Climate change was also a major theme of some of the most shared research, with three of the top 10 papers being related to the issue – including a widely-reported call from 11,000 scientists that the Earth was “clearly and unequivocally…facing a climate emergency”.

The overall list of 100 papers was compiled by giving each article an “Altmetric attention score”, which is a weighted count of the research’s influence in different formats. Mentions in news articles, blogs or on Wikipedia are weighted more highly than social media platforms like Twitter.

Despite the lack of medical papers in the top 10, the medical and health sciences still represented more than half of the papers in the overall list (54), followed by “studies in human society” (nine) and environmental sciences (seven).

The institutions to feature in the most top 100 papers were Harvard University (11) and UCL (six). Around a third of the articles (36) were open access and 28 were free to read. However, another 36 articles had restricted access despite gaining a high enough score to be in the top 100.

Other subjects covered among papers in the top 100 included the prorogation of Parliament in the UK; mortality and survival in the Game of Thrones television series; and racial bias in an algorithm used to manage the health of populations.     

Catherine Williams, chief operating offer at Altmetric, said: “In 2019, it’s clear that our current climate emergency and political polarisation are a matter of huge public concern and debate. This list demonstrates the critical role that research plays in those conversations.”

simon.baker@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (1)

It is vital to make clear to the public that not all sciences share the reproducibility crisis to the same extent., The media does not usually point out that the status of the "hard" sciences (chemistry, physics, geology, etc.) in this respect is likely better than that of the "soft" sciences because of the large difference in the number of objective "instrumentally measurable" concepts available to each group. (i.e. used properly, current and voltage meters seldom give readings that are influenced by weather or politics.) Whether more objective instrumentation can be developed for the life sciences remains an open question, but the outlook is promising. Xrays, NMR scans, clever optics and electrocardiograms and other developments of the hard sciences have all been found useful in the soft sciences. These are not meters of course; Interpretation is still required.

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