Happy New Year and welcome to the Altmetric High Five for December 2017, where we look back on the hottest papers of the month! On a monthly basis, my High Five posts examine a selection of the most popular research outputs Altmetric has seen attention for that month.
This month’s High Five papers could all be turned into New Year’s resolutions: Don’t get baited by cyber-trolls, watch your weight, forget the calcium pills, eat your vegetables, and be kinder to yourself when you come down with the flu (especially if you are a man!)
Paper #1. The Year of the Cyber-Troll
By 2018, most of us are familiar with online “trolls.” Now we have a psychological portrait of cyber-trolls, thanks to a short study published in Personality and Individual Differences last month. The study authors conclude that trolls are more likely to be male, to have high levels of trait psychopathy and sadism, and to have lower affective empathy.
“Results indicate that when high on trait psychopathy, trolls employ an empathic strategy of predicting and recognising the emotional suffering of their victims, while abstaining from the experience of these negative emotions. Thus, trolls appear to be master manipulators of both cyber-settings and their victims’ emotions.” – Sest & March, 2017
The study was only covered by a handful of media outlets, but received most of its outstanding Altmetric attention via Twitter and Reddit.
“Researchers in Australia set out to discover what traits in ‘normal’ people (social media users above age 18 who did not appear to be trolls) might make them susceptible to trolling behavior. […] Having high cognitive empathy simply means they can understand others’ emotions. Having high affective empathy means a person can experience, internalize, and respond to those emotions. The ‘trolls’ in the study scored higher than average on two traits: psychopathy and cognitive empathy. […] High levels of cognitive empathy make these people adept at recognizing what will upset someone, and knowing when they’ve pushed the right buttons. The lack of affective empathy allows trolls not to experience or internalize the emotional experience of their victims.” – Cassie Werber, Quartz
Many Twitter users poked fun at the exceedingly unshocking results of the study – trolls tend to be male and unhinged, who knew?! But the results may have implications for education and cyber-trolling prevention programs… or at least for helping us understand who is likely to be at the other end of that nasty Twitter reply.
Paper #2. Weight Management for Type 2 Diabetes
Our second High Five paper is “Primary care-led weight management for remission of type 2 diabetes (DiRECT),” published in The Lancet in December 2017. Over 160 news outlets covered the study, which used an open-label, cluster-randomized trial to assess the impact of intensive weight management on type 2 diabetes. Based on controlled weight loss, the authors found that “at 12 months, almost half of participants achieved remission to a non-diabetic state and off antidiabetic drugs.”
The study received substantial media and social media attention, especially on Twitter. The Guardian headlined, “Radical diet can reverse type 2 diabetes, new study shows.”
“The number of cases of type 2 diabetes is soaring, related to the obesity epidemic. Fat accumulated in the abdomen prevents the proper function of the pancreas. It can lead to serious and life-threatening complications, including blindness and foot amputations, heart and kidney disease. A new study from Newcastle and Glasgow Universities shows that the disease can be reversed by losing weight, so that sufferers no longer have to take medication and are free of the symptoms and risks. Nine out of 10 people in the trial who lost 15kg (two-and-a-half stone) or more put their type 2 diabetes into remission.” – Sarah Boseley, The Guardian
The strictly controlled diet consisted of consuming approximately 850 calories per day for several months. But while this diet helped many patients achieve remission from type 2 diabetes while getting the nutrients they needed, other self-administered diets may not work as effectively or safely.
- Losing weight is hard, but it’s not any harder if you have type 2 diabetes, by Andrew Brown, Mike Lean and Wilma Leslie, The Conversation.
Paper #3. You Probably Don’t Need Those Calcium Supplements
Our third High Five paper is “Association Between Calcium or Vitamin D Supplementation and Fracture Incidence in Community-Dwelling Older Adults” published in JAMA in December 2017. The authors conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical trials investigating the use the calcium and vitamin D supplements against hip fractures. They found no benefits of using these supplements.
“In this meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials, the use of supplements that included calcium, vitamin D, or both compared with placebo or no treatment was not associated with a lower risk of fractures among community-dwelling older adults. These findings do not support the routine use of these supplements in community-dwelling older people.” – Zhao et al. 2017
Over 150 news outlets covered the study and its perhaps unexpected findings. Media headlines were unequivocal. The New York Times headlined, “Vitamin D and Calcium Don’t Prevent Bone Fractures.”
“Vitamin D and calcium supplements are widely used for the prevention of bone fractures in older adults, but a large analysis confirms earlier reports they do not work,” writes Nicholas Bakalar for NYTimes.
Quartz headlined, “Calcium pills almost definitely are not making your bones stronger.” Corinne Purtill writes for Quartz that “evidence suggests that a varied, healthy diet and regular exercise do more for your health than over-the-counter [calcium] pills.”
“Many people have swallowed the conventional wisdom that calcium and vitamin D supplements lead to stronger bones. But an analysis of studies covering more than 50,000 people suggests they do not. In a paper recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, a research team based in China examined the results of 33 trials, stretching back to 2006, studying the effects of calcium and vitamin D supplements. All subjects were adults over age 50 who lived independently (as opposed to in a residential care facility). The researchers found no relationship between supplement use and the risk of hip fractures, which pose a profound risk to older adults’ health and mobility.” – Corinne Purtill, Quartz
The implications? Make your 2018 the year of fewer dietary supplements, at least when it comes to calcium and vitamin D, but more exercise.
Paper #4. Eat Your Leafy Green Vegetables in 2018
Our next High Five paper is “Nutrients and bioactives in green leafy vegetables and cognitive decline,” published in Neurology in December 2017. The authors of this study set out to investigate the associations between cognitive decline and the consumption of nutrients and bioactives in green leafy vegetables including vitamin K (phylloquinone), lutein, β-carotene, nitrate, folate, kaempferol, and α-tocopherol. The study consisted of a food frequency questionnaire and cognitive assessments among 960 individuals who participated in the Memory and Aging Project.
The study authors found that “consumption of approximately 1 serving per day of green leafy vegetables and foods rich in phylloquinone, lutein, nitrate, folate, α-tocopherol, and kaempferol may help to slow cognitive decline with aging.”
More than 200 news outlets covered this study, which also received significant attention on social media. Clear headlines are newsworthy headlines. “Eat your leafy greens – your brain will thank you,” the StarTribune featured.
“In research that gives new meaning to the expression ‘salad days,’ a new study finds that older people who ate at least one serving of leafy greens a day had a slower rate of decline on tests of memory and thinking skills than did people who rarely or never ate these vegetables.” – Melissa Healy, Los Angeles Times
Other media outlets were more careful in having their headlines reflect the lack of cause-and-effect data in this study, including Forbes and NYTimes. A salad a day may be good for brain health – the keyword being may. Dietary supplements, on the other hand, are unlikely to have the same effect.
“Among many other foods, the researchers recorded the number of servings of lettuce, spinach, kale and collard greens. At least twice over the course of the study they administered cognitive tests covering memory, spatial ability and perceptual speed. Those who ate the most leafy vegetables — one to two servings a day — scored the equivalent of 11 years younger on tests of mental ability than those who ate little or none. Greens contain lutein, folate, beta carotene and other nutrients known to affect aging.” – Nicholas Bakalar, NYTimes
“Remember the mantra: associations and correlations do not prove cause-and-effect. Could adults who eat more veggies also be living more healthy and brain-stimulating lifestyles in general? While the study did try to factor in some information on other aspects of the subjects’ lives such as education, participation in certain cognitive activities, general physical activity level, smoking habits, and seafood and alcohol consumption, it did not capture every potentially relevant aspect of each person’s life, such as details about his or her social interactions and work situations.” – Bruce Y. Lee, Forbes
- Leafy Greens May Prevent Memory Loss, by Alice Walton, Forbes
Paper #5. Man flu – Fact or Fiction?
Our final High Five paper is a fun study published in the Christmas issue of the British Medical Journal, titled “The science behind ‘man flu.’” The study, although informal and written somewhat in jest, was actually researched and peer-reviewed. Kyle Sue, a clinical assistant professor in family medicine at the Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada, searched scholarly databases for articles investigating gender differences in influenza cases, symptoms and morbidity.
As it turns out, there may be an immunity gap between men and women when it comes to viral respiratory illnesses. While “man flu” isn’t necessarily a real thing when it comes to the virus how it infects the body, men with the flu might indeed “feel worse for longer” as compared to women.
Kyle Sue, with plenty of jovial jabs, concludes: “The concept of man flu, as commonly defined, is potentially unjust. Men may not be exaggerating symptoms but have weaker immune responses to viral respiratory viruses, leading to greater morbidity and mortality than seen in women. There are benefits to energy conservation when ill. Lying on the couch, not getting out of bed, or receiving assistance with activities of daily living could also be evolutionarily behaviours that protect against predators. Perhaps now is the time for male friendly spaces, equipped with enormous televisions and reclining chairs, to be set up where men can recover from the debilitating effects of man flu in safety and comfort.”
Over 180 news outlets covered the study, which was also mentioned over 1,100 times on Twitter. ScienceNews headlined, “The man flu struggle might be real, says one researcher.”
“There might be a reason men come across as wimps. In the United States, more men than women died from flu-related causes from 2007 to 2010 across several age groups, researchers reported in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2013. An analysis of data on the 2004 to 2010 flu seasons in Hong Kong found that in children and adults, males were more likely to be hospitalized for the flu than females. […] A prevailing explanation for men’s susceptibility says that women have higher levels of the hormone estradiol, which can boost the immune system, while men have higher levels of testosterone, which can sometimes suppress the immune system. However, these hormones interact with the immune system in other ways as well.” – Helen Thompson, ScienceNews
Listen to BMJ podcast about “manflu.”
- One Hasty Study Doesn’t Mean That “Man Flu” Is Real… But a whole body of scientific research does suggest that men are more vulnerable to respiratory infections, and we don’t know why. By Eleanor Cummins, Slate