Altmetric Blog

Interactions: June High Five

Jean Liu, 1st July 2013

Covalent Bond BikerWhat kinds of research did people talk about in June?  Here is another Interactions monthly wrap-up featuring a selection of 5 new and popular articles in the Altmetric database. Data are accurate as of 28 June 2013.


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1. Direct Imaging of Covalent Bond Structure in Single-Molecule Chemical Reactions
Published on 30 May 2013 in Science

The incredible images featured in this Science article attracted a huge amount of online attention, instilling awe in both members of the public and scientists (see Altmetric details). The article described the first-ever visualisation of a molecule breaking and re-forming its bonds. News outlets reported widely about this article, and several journalists wrote that the images closely resembled molecular stick drawings from high-school chemistry textbooks (see reports in The Atlantic, Wired, and The Scientist). Numerous bloggers (e.g., synthetic chemist See Arr Oh from Just Like Cooking) and social media users discussed the paper, expressing wonderment at the new imaging breakthrough. One user tweeted that the study was “a dream of chemists comes true” (echoing the sentiments described in a press release from UC Berkeley). However, the most enthusiastic comment of all came from a Google+ user:

“I’m absolutely bursting at the seams with excitement about this. Totally a chemistry geek thing, but oh MAN is it just astounding and exciting to see theoretical models actually displayed in the real world.”

 Pierce Arner, Google+ user (1 June 2013)


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2. Bicycle helmets and the law
Published on 12 June 2013 in BMJ

Ben Goldacre, the well-known writer, speaker, and medical doctor, tweeted the following announcement about the new BMJ editorial that he co-authored with David Spiegelhalter:

This editorial came as a response to a recent Canadian research study, which found that legislation on helmet use for cyclists had minimal effects on hospital admissions for serious head injuries. In their editorial, Goldacre and Spiegelhalter provided a fascinating analysis of the complex interacting factors that influence the debates surrounding the role of helmets in cyclist safety.

A number of people took to social media and blogs to share their thoughts about the editorial. Most of the Twitter activity surrounding the article originated from the UK (perhaps due to the large number of Goldacre’s fans who live there), and most tweeters were members of the public. In addition to an active conversation about the article on Reddit, Google+ user Eric Rose posted a fairly comprehensive response from a cyclist’s perspective, and Vaughan Bell wrote a nice summary piece in the blog Mind Hacks.


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3. Outcomes of Medical Emergencies on Commercial Airline Flights
Published on 30 May 2013 in NEJM

Suddenly suffering from a medical emergency while flying several thousand feet above the earth is a nightmarish scenario, but thankfully a new study in NEJM indicates that the likelihood of dying from such an emergency is very low. The study, which looked at in-flight medical emergency call records from 5 airlines, found that in-flight mortality rates were very low and that only 1 medical emergency occurred per 604 flights. Moreover, in 48% of the cases documented in the study, physicians happened to be on-board (as passengers) and acted as primary responders to the emergencies.

This article was the subject of numerous news reports in mainstream media (see Reuters and USA Today) and health websites (e.g., WebMD). Several blogs (see Now@NEJM and Futurity) also discussed the paper in detail (see Altmetric details). The NEJM even summarised the article in a cute animated video. On Twitter, 55% of tweeters were members of the public and 24% were medical practitioners; however, most users simply shared the article as something interesting, and provided minimal commentary.


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4. Big Science vs. Little Science: How Scientific Impact Scales with Funding
Published on 19 June 2013 in PLOS ONE

Does allocating a lot of research funding to a few “elite” research labs (the “few-big model”) translate into greater research impact? Or is the distribution of smaller grants to multiple labs (the “many-small model”) more impactful? A new study, published in PLOS ONE, examined the distribution of research funding in Canada and looked at the resulting “impact”, as quantified through various outcome measures (including the number of articles published and their citation counts). Interestingly, the authors found that the “impact per dollar” was lower for large grant-holders, and that impact was weakly related to funding; therefore, they suggested that it would be beneficial for funders to increase scientific diversity by providing smaller grants to many labs.

Although there were no blog posts about the paper, it was described in 1 news report from Chemistry World. On social media, the paper captured a large amount of attention from the scholarly publishing and research communities; 48% of people who tweeted about the paper were scientists (see Altmetric details). The following tweet, which briefly sums up the message of the paper, was re-tweeted multiple times:

Big grants /= big impact. @salexander_11: Very interesting paper on how scientific impact scales w/ funding!

— Rob Annan (@robannan) June 20, 2013


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5. GWAS of 126,559 Individuals Identifies Genetic Variants Associated with Educational Attainment
Published on 21 June 2013 in Science

A huge genome-wide association study (GWAS), conducted by the Social Science Genetic Association Consortium (SSGAC) and published in Science, sparked a flurry of social media conversations, news reports, and blog posts (see Altmetric details). In the study, the large team of researchers examined the possible associations between 3 single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and the number of years of schooling attained by an individual (“educational attainment”). The researchers found that overall, genetic factors could predict approximately 2% of the variation in educational attainment, suggesting that environmental influences were still most important.

News headlines pertaining to the paper expressed various levels of certainty surrounding the research findings; some headlines were more conservative (e.g., “Genes weakly linked to education level”), whereas others seemed a bit more suggestive of a stronger link between genetics and educational attainment (e.g., “Genetic Variants Linked to Educational Attainment” and “Are Your Grades Written in Your Genes?”). Bloggers, on the other hand, tended to emphasise the weak link between genes and education. Nicely written posts can be found on Percolator, Ars Technica, and Denim and Tweed.

On social media, some reactions to the paper indicated that many people were just plain mind-blown. Overall, 31% of tweeters were scientists; indeed, some of the conversations were highly technical and detailed, with discussions of the size of the effects reported in the paper. For the most part, the tweets didn’t sensationalise the story to the extent that some of the news headlines did:

Gigantic DNA study finds 2 genes that predict if you’ll goto college. But effect is teeny tiny.

— Antonio Regalado (@antonioregalado) May 30, 2013

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