Welcome to Altmetric’s “High Five” for December, the holiday edition! In this post I cover the top five scientific papers with the highest Altmetric scores this 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.
From Star Wars economics, to happiness, to the scientific publication rejection process, our high five papers this month are all over the map. But many of them have a levity that fits the holiday spirit.
Paper #1. I reject this rejection.
Our top paper this month in terms of Altmetric score is a feature article in the British Medical Journal that jabs at the scientific publishing process itself. The feature, titled “Rejection of rejection: a novel approach to overcoming barriers to publication,” was mentioned on Twitter nearly 3,000 times since its publication on December 14, 2015.
The feature authors Cath Chapman and Tim Slade write, “many leading scientific and medical journals reject more than 80% of the manuscripts they receive, making rejection the biggest barrier to publication in high quality journals.” They propose a “novel” (and quite hilarious) solution: that researchers write “rejection of rejection” letters back to journal editors upon receiving notice of a manuscript rejection.
As you are probably aware we receive many rejections each year and are simply not able to accept them all. In fact, with increasing pressure on citation rates and fiercely competitive funding structures we typically accept fewer than 30% of the rejections we receive. Please don’t take this as a reflection of your work. The standard of some of the rejections we receive is very high. In terms of the specific factors influencing our decision the failure by Assessor 1 to realise the brilliance of the study was certainly one of them. Simply stating “this study is neither novel nor interesting and does not extend knowledge in this area” is not reason enough. – Chapman and Slade, 2015
How to reject rejections: I’ll be using this in the new year! https://t.co/hnn6hjzb5z (thanks to @tomslater42 and @epi_tim) – Tweet by @david_j_manley
Paper #2. The economics of Star Wars
Our second High Five paper for this month is titled “It’s a Trap: Emperor Palpatine’s Poison Pill.” It appears on the pre-print server arXiv.org. Zachary Feinstein from Washington University in St. Louis writes:
We modeled the state of the economy of the Galactic Empire prior to the destruction of the two moon-sized battle stations and the fall of the Imperial government. This allowed us to calibrate a financial network of the systemically important institutions, thus providing a picture of the economic repercussions from the Battle of Endor. In this case study we found that the Rebel Alliance would need to prepare a bailout of at least 15%, and likely at least 20%, of GGP in order to mitigate the systemic risks and the sudden and catastrophic economic collapse. Without such funds at the ready, it likely the Galactic economy would enter an economic depression of astronomical proportions.
In a “money” newsbeat article, the BBC quite hilariously headlined, “Star Wars: Experts calculate cost of Death Star… and its destruction.”
He [Zachary Feinstein] reckoned the Rebel Alliance (the good guys) would have needed a mega bailout to prevent “catastrophic” economic collapse across the galaxy. […] “With the disintegration of the Galactic government,” he worked out that the losses “would measure $515.5 quintillion (£341 quintillion)”. – BBC Newsbeat
Now that is a lot of money!
At the end of Return of the Jedi, Ewoks and Rebel fighters celebrate on the forest moon of Endor, ecstatic in the Rebel Alliance’s decisive victory over the Galactic Empire once and for all. But their celebration may have been a little bit premature according to one economic researcher because by his math, the Rebels’ victory would immediately plunge the galaxy into an economic depression the likes of which has never been seen. – Eric Limer, Popular Mechanics
Check out this video of Feinstein, assistant professor of electrical and systems engineering, talking about his latest research.
- The Real Science Inspired By Star Wars, by Michael Greshko, National Geographic
Paper #3. Happiness is Good Health
Our third High Five paper is about… happiness! The paper, “Does happiness itself directly affect mortality? The prospective UK Million Women Study,” was published in The Lancet this month. An international group of researchers followed the self-reported happiness and mortality rate of 719,671 UK women for over 10 years. They found that “[i]n middle-aged women, poor health can cause unhappiness. After allowing for this association and adjusting for potential confounders, happiness and related measures of wellbeing do not appear to have any direct effect on mortality.”
Over 100 different news outlets covered the study. Many ran headlines such as “Being happy won’t give you longer life” and “Go ahead, get grump: Scientists say happiness may not extend your life.”
“Good news for the grumpy” declared Sir Richard Peto in revealing the results of the large-scale study he co-authored, published in the Lancet this week. After tracking a cohort of a million British women over a 10-year time-span, he and his team found that those who were unhappy or stressed were no more likely to succumb to ill-health or premature death than their cheerier counterparts. – Ruth Wippman, The Guardian
Unhappiness, unsurprisingly, coincided with poverty, lack of exercise, and living without a partner. The less education women achieved, the happier they were, too. But the most dramatic correlation was between unhappiness and existing health problems. When researchers controlled for previous health problems, socio-economic status, lifestyle factors, and smoking (on average, smokers are unhappier than nonsmokers), they found that, over 10 years, the death rate among women who were generally unhappy was the same as the rate for generally happy women. The enormity of the study’s sample rules out any direct link between unhappiness and mortality—including cancer mortality and heart disease mortality—in women. – Christina Cauterucci, Slate
From the results of this study, it appears that health drives the connection between happiness, or unhappiness, and mortality. So happiness may not give you a longer life, but what good is a long life without happiness? And good health appears to be a key component of that happiness.
Of course, there could be confounding factors that drive the link between unhappiness and poor health – for example, those who are unhappy may begin to smoke, and the health impacts of smoking may lead to further unhappiness and increase mortality risk. Thus, more research may be needed to explore the link between happiness, health and mortality.
- Good News: Unhappiness Won’t Kill You After All, by Melissa Dahl, ScienceOfUs
Paper #4. Machine learning like a human
Our forth High Five paper is “Human-level concept learning through probabilistic program induction” published in Science this month. The authors describe a process whereby a computer can learn as children do. According to the editor’s summary:
Not only do children learn effortlessly, they do so quickly and with a remarkable ability to use what they have learned as the raw material for creating new stuff. Lake et al. describe a computational model that learns in a similar fashion and does so better than current deep learning algorithms. The model classifies, parses, and recreates handwritten characters, and can generate new letters of the alphabet that look “right” as judged by Turing-like tests of the model’s output in comparison to what real humans produce. – Editor’s Summary, Science
The study was picked up by over 70 news outlets. The New York Times headlined, “A Learning Advance in Artificial Intelligence Rivals Human Abilities.”
The improvements are noteworthy because so-called machine-vision systems are becoming commonplace in many aspects of life, including car-safety systems that detect pedestrians and bicyclists, as well as in video game controls, Internet search and factory robots. The improvements are noteworthy because so-called machine-vision systems are becoming commonplace in many aspects of life, including car-safety systems that detect pedestrians and bicyclists, as well as in video game controls, Internet search and factory robots. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, New York University and the University of Toronto reported a new type of “one shot” machine learning on Thursday in the journal Science, in which a computer vision program outperformed a group of humans in identifying handwritten characters based on a single example. – John Markoff, New York Times
When asked to invent and draw new alphabetic letters in the same style as a handful of examples (for example, the Hebrew letters זַ ,א, or ה), the program created new letters that a panel of 117 judges could not distinguish from what humans made when given the same tasks. – Popular Mechanics
Check out this video in which one of the study authors, Brenden Lake, describes the research.
- Computers are closer to copying the way humans learn, by Dave Gershgorn, Popular Science
Paper #5. Zombie infections as a case study for real-world outbreaks
We end our High Five with another “Christmas feature” article in BMJ: “Zombie infections: epidemiology, treatment, and prevention.” Tara Smith from Kent State University, who is also great on Twitter, cites films and other popular media in this entertaining article on the epidemiology of zombie infections.
The Solanum virus is the most extensively studied infectious cause of reanimated zombies.7 8 9 It has caused outbreaks around the world but does not have an identified reservoir in nature.8 It has a 100% mortality rate, and zombification is certain in anyone exposed to an infected person. Solanum infection is universally fatal in all animals tested or observed, indicating that zoonotic transfer to humans is an unlikely origin.8 One anecdotal report linked infection to the looting of underwater settlements in the Three Gorges Dam in China.9 – Tara Smith, BMJ
The article, while light-hearted, yet may offer insights on the spread of less “fantastic” infectious diseases.
I have a paper out in the Christmas issue of BMJ on the coming zombie apocalypse. You read that right. And yes, it was peer-reviewed. […] Of course, it’s ridiculous at its core–no one really expects a zombie outbreak. *But*, we do see new diseases emerging all the time. MERS. Zika virus. Chikungunya. Hendra. Nipah. Pandemic influenza. Other, novel influenzas. And of course, the Ebola virus disease outbreak that is still ongoing in Guinea and Liberia (though cases have finally slowed to a mere trickle). And we’re still unprepared for them when they become explosive, as Ebola did in 2014. – Tara Smith, on her blog Aetiology
Smith has a background in epidemiology, and has written many pieces on the latest Ebola outbreak.
“There’s a lot that can be applied to true epidemics like Ebola, epidemic influenza or SARS,” Smith said. “Zombies are more fun to think about. […] Realistically, I don’t think there’s much chance of this happening in real life. […] But I do have a plan just in case. Everyone should know where they should go.” – Sean Greene, LA Times