Alex Philippidis Senior News Editor Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News

Social Media Response, News Reports Drive Metrics beyond Journal Citations

The growth of social media has given researchers another way of tracking how widely their studies are disseminated, and thus how impactful they are—not only within the scientific community, but beyond, into the broader population.

Each year, analytics company Altmetric compiles a Top 100 list of research studies, ranked not only by citations in scholarly publications, but by likes and comments on social media networks, in news reports, on blogs, Wikipedia, and other sources.

Altmetric calls its rankings an “Altmetric Attention Score,” which it says is based on an automated algorithm representing a weighted count of the attention attracted by studies. Altmetric cites 14 sources of that attention. News reports are given the greatest weight with a score of 8, followed by blogs with 5, then Wikipedia and policy documents, each with 3. Interestingly, Google+ is assigned a weight of 1, LinkedIn is weighted at 0.5, while three more popular social media (Facebook, Reddit, and YouTube) are each at only 0.25.

Among observations based on Altmetric data: 

  • Four journals accounted for more than one-third (38) of the articles on the Top 100. The journal with the largest single number of articles was Nature, with 16. Three journals aimed at medical audiences accounted for another 22 articles total—The Lancet, BMJ, and JAMA.
  • The institutions with the most coauthors among papers cited on the list were Harvard University (11), Cambridge University (7), and University College London (6). Despite UCL and Cambridge’s presence on top, 69 of the articles had at least one author from a U.S. institution.
  • Nearly half the articles on the Top 100 (49) were open-access, up from 47 a year ago.

Open access may account for the studies that made the list, since those studies would be expected to be distributed more widely than studies protected by paywalls. Another factor that may explain the studies appearing on the list is the strength and effectiveness of the public relations efforts of institutions, journal publishers, and even some researchers.

Following is a list of the seven top research articles on life sciences topics in 2017. Each research article is listed below by its corresponding author; title; publication; URL link; Altmetric Attention Score and 2017 ranking; and implications and future research, either provided to GEN or as discussed within the study.

#7. Alan W. Flake, M.D., et al.

Title: An extra-uterine system to physiologically support the extreme premature lamb

Publication: Nature Communications


Altmetric Attention Score/2017 Ranking:  3878/No. 10

Implications and Future Research: “Our goal is to recreate the environment of the womb as closely as possible to provide physiologic support of the fetus and extend gestation,” Dr. Flake told GEN. “If translated to clinical application, the device could dramatically impact the mortality and morbidity of extreme prematurity and radically change current clinical practices in perinatal and neonatal medicine.”

“We are highly focused on clinical application of this technology and are moving forward with clinical device development and regulatory approval. There are of course a multitude of issues to understand and address including optimization of fetal metabolism in our system, development of the ideal oxygenator, formulation of an optimal amniotic fluid—to name just a few,” Dr. Flake added.

#6. Ana Maria Henao-Restrepo, M.D., et al.

Title: Efficacy and effectiveness of an rVSV-vectored vaccine in preventing Ebola virus disease: final results from the Guinea ring vaccination, open-label, cluster-randomized trial (Ebola Ça Suffit!)

Publication: The Lancet


Altmetric Attention Score/2017 Ranking:  3907/No. 9

Implications and Future Research: “Ebola Ça Suffit!” is the name given to the trial detailed in the study, and literally means, Ebola, that’s enough! “The evidence from randomized and non-randomized clusters and the fact no cases of Ebola virus disease occurred 10 or more days after vaccination (through the 84 days follow-up period and from the indefinite surveillance system throughout the epidemic period) indicates substantial protection of rVSV-ZEBOV against Ebola virus disease,” Dr. Henao-Restrepo and colleagues concluded. “Ring vaccination was effective in contributing to controlling the Ebola virus disease outbreak. Results from mathematical modelling studies, which used the data from the ring vaccination trial, indicate that using ring vaccination within a surveillance and containment strategy could be highly effective in controlling future outbreaks of Ebola virus disease.”

“The findings from Ebola ça Suffit  showed that it is feasible to undertake efficacy trials in the challenging circumstances of epidemics. Vaccine trial designs using case-reactive strategies similar to those of the ring vaccination trial might have an application in future hemorrhagic fever outbreaks and in other infectious disease epidemics,” the authors added.

#5. Lida Xing, Ph.D., Ryan C. McKellar, Ph.D., et al.

Title: A Feathered Dinosaur Tail with Primitive Plumage Trapped in Mid-Cretaceous Amber

Publication: Current Biology


Altmetric Attention Score/2017 Ranking:  3967/No. 8

Implications and Future Research: “The theropod tail reported here is an astonishing fossil, highlighting the unique preservation potential of amber,” Drs. Xing and McKellar, and colleagues, concluded. “Importantly, in the context of bird origins, feathers and flight are key elements contributing to the success of the clade. Recent finds from Asia have revealed unexpected diversity in feather morphologies and flight modes among the proliferation of small Jurassic-Cretaceous theropods near the origin of birds with powered flight. DIP-V-15103 adds another morphotype to this diversity. The integration of developmental studies and paleontology yields enriched models of morphological character evolution that help explain major evolutionary transitions in key clades such as theropods, including birds.”
“With preservation in amber, the finest details of feathers are visible in three dimensions, providing concrete evidence for feather morphologies and arrangement upon the tail, as well as supporting an important role for barbs and barbules in feather evolution,” Drs. Xing and McKellar, and colleagues, added.

#4. Majid Ezzati, Ph.D., et al.

Title: Worldwide trends in body-mass index, underweight, overweight, and obesity from 1975 to 2016: a pooled analysis of 2416 population-based measurement studies in 128.9 million children, adolescents, and adults

Publication: The Lancet


Altmetric Attention Score/2017 Ranking:  4218/No. 7 

Implications and Future Research: “Our finding that the number of children and adolescents aged 5–19 years in the world who are moderately or severely underweight remains larger than those who are obese shows the continued need for policies that enhance food security in low-income countries and households, especially in South Asia,” Dr. Ezzati and colleagues concluded. “Yet the experiences of East Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean show that the transition from underweight to overweight and obesity can be rapid, and overwhelm the national capacity needed to engender a healthy transition. More broadly, in an unhealthy nutritional transition, an increase in nutrient-poor, energy-dense foods can lead to stunted growth along with weight gain in children, adolescents, and adults, resulting in higher BMI and worse health outcomes throughout the life-course.

“Therefore, the findings from our comprehensive analysis of trends in underweight, as well as overweight and obesity highlight the disconnect between the global dialogue on overweight and obesity, which has largely overlooked the remaining undernutrition burden, and the initiatives and donors focusing on undernutrition that have paid little attention to the looming burden of overweight and obesity, itself a risk factor for adverse pregnancy outcomes. The Sustainable Development Goals, which address poverty, education, nutrition, and universal health coverage, provide an opportunity for integrating policies that coherently address underweight and overweight in children and adolescents, and their health consequences, effectively and equitably. Doing so would require commitment from national and international agencies and donors for replacing the fragmented focus with an integrated approach,” Dr. Ezzati and colleagues added.

#3. Shoukhrat Mitalipov, Ph.D., et al.

Title: Correction of a pathogenic gene mutation in human embryos

Publication: Nature


Altmetric Attention Score/2017 Ranking:  4675/No. 4 

Implications and Future Research: “We found that a precisely targeted break in DNA will repair itself using the normal copy from the second parent as a template,” Dr. Mitalipov told GEN. “By repairing it at the embryonic stage, this would not only remove the mutation from the developing embryo but also prevent it from being inherited by succeeding generations. This finding could apply to more than 10,000 monogenic inherited disorders that currently affect an estimated 600 million people worldwide with limited treatment options.”

“As the study notes, there are more than 10,000 monogenic inherited disorders, including many that are both late-onset and can be transmitted through the single copy of a defective gene. BRCA1 and BRCA2 are two examples. We are interested in expanding our studies to these heritable gene mutations,” Dr. Mitalipov added.

#2. Caspar A. Hallmann, Ph.D. student, et al.

Title: More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas

Publication: PLOS ONE


Altmetric Attention Score/2017 Ranking: 4700/No. 5

Implications and Future Research: “We looked at the total caught biomass of flying insects and compared the weight of the trap-catches over time, over a large number of nature reserves,” Dr. Hallmann told GEN. “What we observed was shocking: in less than 30 years, over three quarters of the total biomass has disappeared from the reserves. The drop of such proportions implies a drop across the flying insect spectrum, largely confirming what we already suspected based on single-species studies. The implications for ecosystem functioning are expected to be severe, as insects are at the bottom of the food chain (birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, etc., all rely on insects as a food source), serve as pollinators, facilitate nutrient cycling (and many more services), and hence are indispensable. And what's more troubling, this decline is observed in nature reserves, set in place to preserve biodiversity and ecosystem functioning.

“While we looked at several suspects plausible to have contributed to the observed decline (e.g., climate and landscape changes), we were unable to pinpoint the exact cause. So, at the moment, this is one of our prime priorities in future investigations. We will be also looking at the ramifications of such a decline for other parts of the ecosystem (e.g., birds, plants), and, also, how this decline is replicated in other parts of the world.”

#1. Mahshid Dehghan, Ph.D., et al.

Title: Associations of fats and carbohydrate intake with cardiovascular disease and mortality in 18 countries from five continents (PURE): a prospective cohort study

Publication: The Lancet


Altmetric Attention Score/2017 Ranking: 6477/No. 1 

Implications and Future Research: “Consistent with most data, but in contrast to dietary guidelines, we found fats, including saturated fatty acids, are not harmful and diets high in carbohydrate have adverse effects on total mortality,” Dr. Dahghan and colleagues concluded. “We did not observe any detrimental effect of higher fat intake on cardiovascular events. Our data across 18 countries adds to the large and growing body of evidence that increased fats are not associated with higher cardiovascular disease or mortality.”

“Removing current restrictions on fat intake but limiting carbohydrate intake (when high) might improve health. Dietary guidelines might need to be reconsidered in light of consistent findings from the present study, especially in countries outside of Europe and North America,” Dr. Dehghan and colleagues added.

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