September was quite a bizarre month for scholarly conversations. Cognition, light sabres, monster volcanoes, and (ahem) men’s private parts were all discussion topics. Here’s another monthly wrap-up of 5 new and popular articles picked from the Altmetric database. Data are accurate as of 1 October 2013.
[altmetric doi=”10.1038/nature12512″ float=”right”]
1. Attractive photons in a quantum nonlinear medium
Published on 25 September in Nature
One Redditor declared that it was time to “[d]ust off your old Jedi costumes”, because researchers had created a new form of matter from photons. With the researchers themselves comparing this new form of matter to light sabres, it was no surprise that mainstream news outlets and blogs jumped on the story (see Altmetric details). The paper was widely shared by social media users, although surprisingly, there seemed to be less emphasis on light sabres. As one Twitter user implied, one certainly might not jump to the idea of light sabres just from reading the title of the article alone:
I can’t imagine a more bland and verbose way to say, “Dude, we just invented lightsabers!”: http://t.co/LKx17hPxwG
— Wyatt (@WyattEpp) September 26, 2013
[altmetric doi=”10.1038/nature12486″ float=”right”]
2. Video game training enhances cognitive control in older adults
Published on 4 September in Nature
Sure, GTA V has been making headlines, but so has a brain training game called NeuroRacer. According to a new Nature paper, the NeuroRacer driving video game was effective for “multitasking training” in older people, suggesting that customised video games could be useful for preventing age-related cognitive decline. The paper was reported widely in mainstream news media, with Altmetric picking up 32 new stories so far (see Altmetric details). Within academic circles on Twitter, some were uncomfortable about the commercialisation of NeuroRacer and others were skeptical of the findings:
Think the Nature brain training paper *potentially* exciting. But reading Competing Interests section just depressing http://t.co/2ZIk2biwj5
— Jon Simons (@js_simons) September 5, 2013
Heard exciting news about videogame training study. Clicked through, saw n=15 to 16 per cell, stopped reading. http://t.co/yt47J0ZUTF
— Sanjay Srivastava (@hardsci) September 4, 2013
Many bloggers decided to discuss the paper in detail, highlighting issues they had with the methodology and evaluating the evidence presented. Interesting and insightful posts can be found on Daniel Simons’ blog, the nerve blog, the BPS Research Digest, and the Neuroethics at the Core blog.
[altmetric doi=”10.1038/ngeo1934″ float=”right”]
3. An immense shield volcano within the Shatsky Rise oceanic plateau, northwest Pacific Ocean
Published on 5 September in Nature Geoscience
A volcano in the Pacific Ocean known as Tamu Massif, was recently revealed to be incredibly massive and possibly the largest volcano in the Solar System. This revelation captured the attention of the news media, leading to 40 news reports, several blog posts, and hundreds of social media mentions (Altmetric details).
[altmetric doi=”10.1073/pnas.1305579110″ float=”right”]
4. Testicular volume is inversely correlated with nurturing-related brain activity in human fathers
Published on 24 September in PNAS
When we look at the most highly mentioned articles in the Altmetric database, there are inevitably many articles that have to do with sexuality, genitalia, and anything related to these. This month, one of the most popular papers was about testicular size in fathers, triggering a flood of horrendous puns (for example, The Huffington Posts’ headline “Have You Got the Balls to Be a Good Dad?” and TIME Magazine’s “Study: Choose Dads With Smaller ‘Nads”) in news reports and social media posts (Altmetric details).
Not everyone was so keen on the new paper, though. The Columbia Journalism Review published an amusing take on the media frenzy surrounding the paper, and provided a more balanced view of the findings. Another thoughtful analysis of the paper appeared in the blog Girl w/Pen. Finally, blogger Richard Gayle wasn’t convinced at all by the findings, stating that “[e]ven if there was a small correlation between testicle size and fathering, it is not strong enough to determine what individual men will do based on the size of their balls. Any suggestion by the media that you can – which just about every one did – is simply not supported by what I read in the paper.”
[altmetric doi=”10.1126/science.1238041″ float=”right”]
5. Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function
Published on 30 August in Science
The most popular paper for the month (according to its Altmetric score) was actually published at the end of August, but didn’t make it into the August High Five. This interesting paper reported on a causal link between poverty and reduced cognitive capacity. In the first few days after publication, the paper was widely shared on social media, mostly by individuals and a few organisations, including one responsible for the Asset Building Program in the US:
— Asset Building (@AssetsNAF) August 29, 2013
Altmetric also tracked a significant amount of news coverage, with 40 stories so far (Altmetric details). One notable news report was actually an essay by the paper’s first author – this appeared in the New York Times. Further analyses appeared in some well-written blog posts on the HealthLawProf Blog and bioethics.net.