Altmetric Blog

January High Five – Research That Will Delight and Disturb You, Featuring an Ancient Ancestor and Human-Animal Hybrids

Paige Jarreau, 3rd February 2017

Welcome to the Altmetric High Five! 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 most popular research papers have little in common. However, the findings reported within them are all striking in some way, from eye-opening, to weird, to promising for human health, to controversial or downright disturbing.

Without further ado…

Credit: Bindaas Madhavi, Flickr.com

Credit: Bindaas Madhavi, Flickr.com

Paper #1. Gender Stereotypes Hold Back Girls and Boys

Our first High Five paper is “Gender stereotypes about intellectual ability emerge early and influence children’s interests,” published in Science magazine in late January. In this study, Lin Bian and colleagues assessed children’s perceptions of their own brilliance versus other characteristics, such as niceness, and compared these perceptions between boys and girls.

“Common stereotypes associate high-level intellectual ability (brilliance, genius, etc.) with men more than women. These stereotypes discourage women’s pursuit of many prestigious careers; that is, women are underrepresented in fields whose members cherish brilliance (such as physics and philosophy). Here we show that these stereotypes are endorsed by, and influence the interests of, children as young as 6. Specifically, 6-year-old girls are less likely than boys to believe that members of their gender are ‘really, really smart.’ Also at age 6, girls begin to avoid activities said to be for children who are ‘really, really smart.’ These findings suggest that gendered notions of brilliance are acquired early and have an immediate effect on children’s interests.” – Bian et al. 2017

Over 300 news outlets covered this study, and thousands of people tweeted about it. NPR headlined, “Young Girls Are Less Apt To Think That Women Are Really, Really Smart.”

“Girls in the first few years of elementary school are less likely than boys to say that their own gender is ‘really, really smart,’ and less likely to opt into a game described as being for super-smart kids, research finds. […] If kids were instead exposed to the idea that success comes not because of fixed ability, but because of hard work over time (a so-called ‘growth mindset,’ the idea developed by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck,) maybe those stereotypes would lose their punch.” – Katherine Hobson, NPR

The Washington Post headlined, “Research shows young girls are less likely to think of women as ‘really, really smart.’” However, some outlets covered the study a bit more critically, with some potentially good news for girls’ self-perceptions. Forbes headlined, “Gender Study: Boys Think They Are Smarter, But Girls Work Harder And Perform Better.”

A recent article published in Science is causing an uproar in social and mass media, because it shows that certain forms of gender bias are observed in children as young as six years of age. The results are being widely interpreted as showing that girls are less confident about their intelligence from a young age, when in fact a careful reading of the article reveals exactly the opposite: from as early as six years of age, girls are much more aware of their true strengths and potential, and they realize that working hard and being nice are more valuable traits than simply being “smart” and more closely linked to success.” – Paolo Gaudiano and Ellen Hunt, Forbes

Some media stories about this study highlighted that in the end, stereotypes can hold back both girls and boys from doing well in school and pursuing careers in technical fields.

More reading:

 

 

Credit: Mouse Embryo. Bo Li, Flickr.com

Credit: Mouse Embryo. Bo Li, Flickr.com

Paper #2. Controversial Chimeras

Our next High Five paper is “Interspecies Chimerism with Mammalian Pluripotent Stem Cells,” published in Cell. The study, covered by nearly 300 media outlets, caused a stir and sparked some controversy surrounding the idea of creating “human-animal hybrids.” The real story, however, is more complicated.

“The chimeric pig foetuses produced by Juan Izpisua BelmonteJun Wu and their team at the Salk Institute were not allowed to develop to term, and contained human cells in multiple tissues. […] The intention is not to create new and bizarre creatures. Chimeras are incredibly useful for understanding how animals grow and develop. They might one day be used to grow life-saving organs that can be transplanted into humans [or test drugs for the treatment of diseases, etc.]” – Marin Pera and Megan Munsie, The Conversation

The New York Times headlined, “New Prospects for Growing Human Replacement Organs in Animals.”

“One team of biologists, led by Jun Wu and Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte at the Salk Institute, has shown for the first time that human stem cells can contribute to forming the tissues of a pig, despite the 90 million years of evolution between the two species. […] Many technical and ethical barriers have yet to be overcome, but the research is advancing alongside the acute need for organs; some 76,000 people in the United States alone are awaiting transplants.” – Nicholas Wade, NYT

NPR headlined, “Controversial Research On Creation Of Human-Animal Embryos Published.” Currently, the National Institutes of Health has moratorium on funding research on such human-animal chimeras. How the ethical issues of funding and conducting this research will be resolved, especially when it comes to using the chimeras for human treatment, remains to be seen.

 

 

Credit: Quinn Dombrowski, Flickr.com

Credit: Quinn Dombrowski, Flickr.com

Paper #3. Detecting Skin Cancer with Smart Machines

Our third High Five paper is “Dermatologist-level classification of skin cancer with deep neural networks,” published in Nature in January. Computer technology and machine learning may now help physicians diagnose skin cancer.

“Skin cancer, the most common human malignancy, is primarily diagnosed visually […] Here we demonstrate classification of skin lesions using a single CNN [convolutional neural network], trained end-to-end from images directly, using only pixels and disease labels as inputs. […] Outfitted with deep neural networks, mobile devices can potentially extend the reach of dermatologists outside of the clinic.” – Esteva et al. 2017

Nearly 100 news outlets covered the study, which also received a lot of attention on Twitter and Facebook. Wired headlined, “If You Look at X-Rays or Moles for a Living, AI Is Coming for Your Job.”

“[D]octors are now turning to artificial intelligence to tell the difference between innocuous and potentially fatal blotches. The hope is that computer vision, with its ability to make thousands of tiny measurements, will catch cancers early enough and with enough specificity to cut down on the amount of cutting doctors do. […] Computer scientists and physicians at Stanford University recently teamed up to train a deep learning algorithm on 130,000 images of 2,000 skin diseases. The result, the subject of a paper out today in Nature, performed as well as 21 board-certified dermatologists in picking out deadly skin lesions.” – Matt Young, Wired

Smithsonian headlined, “Robo-Dermatologist Diagnoses Skin Cancer With Expert Accuracy.”

“[Study author Andre Esteva said] that the point of the work is not to replace doctors, but to help streamline the process of screening moles and lesions, which can take up a lot of time. ‘The aim is absolutely not to replace doctors nor to replace diagnosis,’ he says. ‘What we are replicating [is] sort of the first two initial screenings that a dermatologist might perform.’” – Jason Daley, Smithsonian Magazine

More reading:

 

 

Artist's reconstruction of Saccorhytus coronarius. Credit: Apokryltaros, Wikimedia

Artist’s reconstruction of Saccorhytus coronarius. Credit: Apokryltaros, Wikimedia

Paper #4. Hello Ancestor

Our next High Five paper is “Meiofaunal deuterostomes from the basal Cambrian of Shaanxi (China),” published in Nature. For this study, we go back in time to look at a very early ancestor of vertebrates (including us) living in both marine and fresh water environments, called Saccorhytus coronarius. As the National Geographic Education Blog headlined, “Huge Mouth, No Anus: Meet One of Our Earliest Ancestors.”

Nearly 200 news outlets covered this study. The New York Times headlined, “This Prehistoric Human Ancestor Was All Mouth.”

“About 540 million years ago, our ancestors were insignificant creatures no more than a millimeter in size. They wriggled around in the sediments of shallow seas, gulped prey into their minuscule, baglike bodies and expelled the water through cone-shaped spouts around their mouths. Animals this small do not fossilize well, which is why this stage of the distant evolutionary past is so little known. A cache of 45 individuals has now been unearthed in Shaanxi Province, in central China. They are described in the Monday issue of the journal Nature by a team led by Jian Han of Northwest University in Xi’an, China.” – Nicholas Wade, NYT

Buzzfeed headlined, “Scientists Just Found A Little Sack With No Bumhole And They Think It’s Your Oldest Known Ancestor.”

“Actually, this thing is a lot uglier than a wrinkled bag. It’s basically a giant gaping mouth with spikes and some extra holes — probably for oozing waste [yet holes that may have later evolved into gills]. […] It sounds primitive, but compared to other life in that era, this little blob of an animal was on the cutting edge. This was a time in Earth’s history when sea pens and mats of algae were about the most exciting things around.” – Rae Ellen Bichell, NPR

 

 

Credit: Fort Rucker, Flickr.com

Credit: Fort Rucker, Flickr.com

Paper #5. Good News For Weekend Warrior Fitness Fans

Our final High Five paper, published in JAMA Internal Medicine in January 2017, is “Association of “Weekend Warrior” and Other Leisure Time Physical Activity Patterns With Risks for All-Cause, Cardiovascular Disease, and Cancer Mortality.”

“This pooled analysis of population-based surveys included 63, 591 adult respondents. All-cause mortality risk was approximately 30% lower in active vs inactive adults, including ‘weekend warrior’ respondents who performed the recommended amount of 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous activity from 1 or 2 sessions per week.” – O’Donovan et al. 2017

Over 120 news outlets covered the study, which appeared to be popular in social media due to the good news for weekend fitness lovers. The Washington Post headlined, “Large study supports ‘weekend warrior’ approach to lifetime fitness.”

“Health and fitness experts have long described ‘weekend warriors’ in a mildly negative way. They used the term for individuals who exercised irregularly, perhaps in weekend pickup games. […] But no more.” – Amby Burfoot, The Washington Post

“’We were surprised to find that cardiovascular and cancer mortality were also lower among the weekend warriors,’ says lead author Gary O’Donovan, from Loughborough University in England. ‘Interestingly, we also found the benefits are much the same in men and women.’” – Amby Burfoot, The Washington Post

The New York Times headlined, “Weekend Warriors’ Show Survival Benefits.”

“It turned out that exercise, in any amount, had substantially lessened the risk that someone would die from any cause, including heart disease and cancer.” – Gretchen Reynolds, NYT

So how do you get exercise? Do you work out all week long, or are you a weekend warrior?

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