Off-beat, inspiring and controversial: The 10 most-talked about science stories of 2015
(BPT) – The new Star Wars movie, Adele’s new album or the latest tech gadget – what headlines grabbed your interest in 2015? For many, the most riveting stories didn’t come out of pop culture, they came from the world of science.
The hottest science headlines of 2015 encompassed topics that were truly compelling (such as health and the environment), controversial (global warming and anti-vaccination), or offbeat and fun (like the dubious correlation between foot size and sexual endowment). Altmetric tracks coverage of academic research in scholarly forums and mainstream media, along with shares and comments on blogs, Wikipedia and social media platforms like Twitter, Reddit and Facebook.
Every year, the company publishes a list of the top 100 most-shared and talked about academic research of the preceding year.
Drum roll please … According to Altmetric’s data-crunching, the top 10 science stories of 2015 were:
1. Help is on the way … Just in time?! – An international team of researchers discovered a new antibiotic that inhibits the growth of a range of drug-resistant bacteria. This news offers hope for efforts aimed at combating antibiotic resistance since, over time, bacteria can become resistant to certain antibiotics currently in widespread use.
2. Once again, debunking the MMR Vaccine/ Autism myth – Researchers studied 95,000 children with older siblings, some of whom had Autism and some who didn’t. Weighing in on a polarizing topic, the researchers concluded that getting the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine didn’t increase Autism risks.
3. Mass extinctions, and we’re the asteroid – Extinction rates over the last century are 100 times higher than normal and humans are to blame. That was the conclusion of research by scientists at six different universities. The report was widely publicized, prompting The Daily Beast to headline the story “We’re not the dinos: We’re the asteroid.”
4. “Bad luck” the major cause of cancer – Scientists have long known certain body tissues are more prone to develop cancer than others, but have never been able to explain why. Research from scientists at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Johns Hopkins indicates the majority of cancers occur because of “bad luck,” rather than environmental factors or genetics.
5. Oh, sure it worked once, but can you do it again? – Being able to reproduce test results in subsequent experiments is a basic principle of all science, but it’s not always easy to do. Researchers at dozens of universities examined how easy (or difficult) it is to reproduce the results of psychological studies. Their conclusion: it’s hard to reproduce results, even when you repeat the study using all the same factors the original researchers did.
6. An island of plastic in the oceans … and it’s growing – Researchers climbed in boats to assess with their own eyes just how much plastic and trash are floating around the world’s oceans, then used their observations and math to estimate the total pollution load. Their conclusion: more than 5 trillion pieces of plastic, weighing more than 250,000 tons, are floating around out there.
7. What we’ll have to leave in the ground to fight global warming – University College London researchers studied just how much of the world’s untapped fossil fuel reserves need to remain that way in order for the world to slow global warming to just two degrees Centigrade (the widely agreed-upon limit). They concluded that a third of the world’s oil reserves, half its gas reserves and 80 percent of coal reserves should remain unused between now and 2050.
8. That’s totally academic – Not all the year’s research focused on high-brow topics. Researchers at the University of Giessen in Germany evaluated the two software programs most commonly used in the preparation of scholarly documents. In the end, they concluded that which one to use really is a matter of preference for whoever is writing the document.
9. Art by … Vincent Van Computer?? – Researchers in Germany and the U.S. developed and reported on an artificially intelligent program that detects individual artistic styles, such as that of Vincent Van Gogh, and can adapt a photograph to mimic that style.
10. Does religion make you selfish? – A team of researchers in Canada, China, Jordan, Qatar, South Africa, Turkey and the U.S. evaluated the generosity of 1,170 children ages 5-12 in Christian, Muslim and non-religious households. The test assessed how willing kids were to share their favorite stickers, and the results were not what you might expect. Children in non-religious homes were more likely to share than kids from either Christian or Muslim households (and there was no difference in generosity between children of the two faiths). Researchers said the study results “call into question whether religion is vital for moral development, supporting the idea that the secularization of moral discourse will not reduce human kindness – in fact, it will do just the opposite.”
Beyond the top 10, other fascinating findings spread throughout the Altmetric 100 list include:
* E-readers are bad for your sleep/health (No. 15).
* Male sexual endowment and foot size are not connected, but we do have an answer to the eternal question of “what is normal?” (No. 46).
* Eating fat doesn’t give you heart disease, but drinking diet soda does make you fat (Nos. 56 and 64).
* If you want to be smarter as you get older, you should eat like a Greek (No. 82).
* Video games don’t make you sexist, but being a loser does (Nos.24 and 54).
To dig down into these and many others on the full top 100 list, visit www.altmetric.com/top100.