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 are all about the human body, from aging, to disease, to the neuroscience of lying. With a bit of star dust mixed in!
Paper #1. Age Limit
Our first High Five paper is “Evidence for a limit to human lifespan,” published in Nature this month. The study authors analyzed global demographic data, and found that “improvements in survival with age tend to decline after age 100, and […] age at death of the world’s oldest person has not increased since the 1990s.” The authors conclude that their results “strongly suggest that the maximum lifespan of humans is fixed and subject to natural constraints.”
Nearly 200 news outlets covered this study, which also attracted over 1,000 tweets and 27 blog posts. Most news stories focused on the fact that we seem to have reached a limit of maximum human lifespan. Vox headlined, “The oldest human lived to 122. Why no person will likely break her record.”
“In all, they determined the probability that someone will reach age 125 in any given year ‘is less than 1 in 10,000.’ Or put another way: A 125-year-old human is a once-in-10,000-year occurrence.” – Brian Resnick, Vox
Ed Yong, writing for The Atlantic, describes the details of this new study:
“The data were clear. Between the 1970s and early 1990s, our maximum age rose from around 110 to 115—and then stopped after 1995, shortly before Jeanne Calment died. In fact, Vijg’s team calculated that in any given year, the odds that at least one person in the world will live past their 125th birthday are less than 1 in 10,000. Despite sanitation, antibiotics, vaccines, and other medical advances, the oldest living people simply aren’t dying any later. […] The ceiling is probably hardwired into our biology. As we grow older, we slowly accumulate damage to our DNA and other molecules, which turns the intricate machinery of our cells into a creaky, dysfunctional mess.” – Ed Yong, The Atlantic
- The limits to human lifespan must be respected, by Nature Editorial team
- What’s the Longest Humans Can Live? 115 Years, New Study Says, by Carl Zimmer, New York Times
Paper #2. Lie to me again…
Our second High Five paper is “The brain adapts to dishonesty,” an article published in Nature Neuroscience this month. The study authors find, through functional MRI, a biological mechanism for the “slippery slope” of lying.
“Behaviorally, we show that the extent to which participants engage in self-serving dishonesty increases with repetition. Using functional MRI, we show that signal reduction in the amygdala is sensitive to the history of dishonest behavior, consistent with adaptation.” – Garrett et al. 2016
Nearly 200 news outlets covered the study. With the mass media currently focusing coverage in the presidential election, some news outlets took a political spin on the results of this study. Others highlighted the seemingly almost trite (think Pinocchio) fact that “the more you lie, the easier it gets.”
“A study published Oct. 24 in Nature Neuroscience has found that telling small lies makes it easier for people to tell even bigger fibs because the amygdala, the part of the brain that would normally put the brakes on a lie by making a person feel uneasy, gradually becomes desensitized to deception. The research is considered the first empirical evidence to show that lying actually gets easier with repeated fibs.” – Lila MacLellan, Quartz
“In a new study, the brain scans of people who lied during a game showed that the region of the brain associated with emotion reacted less strongly as they continued to deceive a partner.” – The Washington Post
So how can you tell if someone is lying to you more and more over time? Here is some info on that!
- Lying once makes the second and third times easier, by Amy Ellis Nutt, The Washington Post
- Lying Repetitively Linked to Decreased Amygdala Activity, by Kerry Grens, The Scientist
Paper #3. When you’ve got the wrong Patient Zero
Our third High Five paper is “1970s and ‘Patient 0’ HIV-1 genomes illuminate early HIV/AIDS history in North America,” published in Nature this month. The authors created a full-genome “snapchat” of the U.S. HIV-1 epidemic, revealing that the epidemic emerged from a pre-existing Caribbean epidemic. This study takes the “blame” off of HIV-1 “patient zero” in the U.S.
Nearly 200 news outlets covered this study. The Atlantic headlined, “How One Man Was Wrongly Blamed for Bringing AIDS to America: HIV arrived in the U.S. from Haiti a decade before the first cases were identified—and well before the so-called Patient Zero contracted the virus.”
“Michael Worobey, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona […] sequenced the complete genomes of HIV taken from U.S. samples collected in the late 1970s, and showed that [Gaëtan’ Dugas could not possibly have been the first AIDS patient in the U.S. Indeed, the disease likely entered the country from Haiti in 1971, flying under the radar for a decade before anyone realized what was happening.” – Ed Yong, The Atlantic
Many news articles focused on the exoneration of “Patient 0” through this new study, and focused less on the specifics of the data from this study related to the jump of the HIV virus to the US from the Caribbean in the early 1970s.
Paper #4. Male Contraceptive has Problems
Our next High Five paper is “Efficacy and Safety of an Injectable Combination Hormonal Contraceptive for Men,” published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. The study evaluated a hormone treatment based method of male contraception in 320 participants. The paper’s primary findings were listed as: “The contraceptive efficacy was relatively good compared with other reversible methods available for men. The frequencies of mild to moderate mood disorders were relatively high.”
Over 200 news outlets covered the study. Many news articles focused on myths and misconceptions surrounding the study and male contraceptives as a larger topic. Some media supposedly reported that the men in the study were “wimps” for complaining of side effects. Several news outlets later reacted against this narrative.
“The 320 men who participated in the research reported a whopping 1,491 adverse events, and the researchers running the trial determined that 900 of these events were caused by the injectable contraceptive.” – Julia Belluz, Vox
In the end, according to the paper in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, the injectable contraceptive was demonstrated to be decently effective, but the trial was cut short due to side effects observed in some men.
“The findings suggest that a future hormonal male contraceptive may one day be possible. However, the data also revealed high rates of side effects, such as acne and mood swings, suggesting much more work is needed before such a birth control method is realized.” – Beth Mole, Ars Technica
Paper #5. Way More Galaxies…
Our final High Five paper is “The Evolution of Galaxy Number Density at z < 8 and Its Implications.” The study appeared in The Astrophysical Journal this month.
“We […] show that the total number of galaxies in the universe [is] almost a factor of 10 higher than would be seen in an all sky survey at Hubble Ultra-Deep Field depth. We discuss the implications for these results for galaxy evolution, as well as compare our results with the latest models of galaxy formation. These results also reveal that the cosmic background light in the optical and near-infrared likely arise from these unobserved faint galaxies.” – Conselice et al. 2016
Nearly 200 news outlets covered the study. The New York Times headlined, “Two Trillion Galaxies, at the Very Least.”
“Previous estimates were that there were perhaps 200 billion galaxies in the observable universe. One might well ask — what difference does it make? Or put another way, once you get past a couple of hundred billion galaxies, who’s counting? But the finding has important implications for understanding how the universe has evolved. The researchers found that most of the oldest galaxies were low in mass, similar to some of the small “satellite” galaxies near our own Milky Way, and that there were about 10 times fewer low-mass galaxies today. That suggests that over billions of years, galaxies have been colliding and joining together.” – Henry Fountain, New York Times