Altmetric Blog

The Altmetric Top 100 – Five years of insights

Josh Clark, 29th November 2018

Since December 2013 we’ve tracked, collated, blogged and podcasted about the most talked about papers that have been published each year, giving a rundown of which topics caught the public’s imagination. In this post, we’ll take a look at some of the insights and trends we’ve seen in Top 100 lists from 2013 to 2017, ahead of the release of the 2018 Top 100 next month.

Health research takes the top spot

Since the very first annual Top 100 list was created, health-related research papers have been the most talked about overall. Some of the most popular papers in this subject have been on unusual topics such as how reading books can increase your lifespan, questioning the use of wearable technology for weight loss and even whether we should be worried about the amount of booze that James Bond consumes.


Authors from the US and UK are leading the list

The majority of research included in Top 100 lists to date has been authored by researchers from US and UK institutions. This trend is reflected in where in the world the mentions for these research articles come from, as you can see in the table below. It should, of course, be noted that this is partly due to the underlying data available from the sources that Altmetric tracks across the globe, and also due to the high volume of mentions from western social media sources.

Table: Countries with most online mentions by source

Twitter Facebook News mentions  Policy documents
2 UK UK UK Switzerland
3 Japan Canada Australia Australia
4 Spain Australia Canada Italy
5 Canada Italy India UK


Nature and Science contributing most articles

We also took a look at which journals featured most prominently in the Top 100 over the years. Nature took the top spot for the number of articles featured overall in the last five years of Top 100, with a whopping 72 papers! Science comes in second with a total of 50 articles, and next is PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) with 36 articles.


Is Top 100 research becoming more ‘open’ over time?

Many of us at Altmetric thought that the number of titles published open access would increase steadily over time, reflecting the increasing shift to OA publishing seen across the scholarly space. From what we have seen (and it’s sometimes a little tricky to tell when trying to identify OA versus ‘free to read’ on a publisher site) there has been no significant increase, with around 30 – 40 open access articles featuring in each year’s list.


The number ones: where are they now?

As we come up to the sixth year of the Top 100, we thought we’d look back at the previous five year’s number one papers to see what type of attention they’ve received since hitting the top spot. Are their findings still relevant and much referenced, or have they since been disproved or debunked?

2013 – Overview of active cesium contamination of freshwater fish in Fukushima and Eastern Japan 

This paper has continued to see a large amount of attention since publication in 2013. The
research, an analysis of the contamination of freshwater fish in Fukushima was featured in online news articles as recent as July 2018, such as this article
reporting on the possibility of radioactive material in Californian red wine.

2014 – Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks 

Exploring the theory that emotions can be transferred through social networks, this paper has received online attention for a variety of online sources since its publication, including two policy document references and over two hundred Reddit threads. Even today, the article continues to garner attention and was recently mentioned in a blog post discussing why we find it so fun to be frightened.

2015 – A new antibiotic kills pathogens without detectable resistance 

2015’s number one article received twelve positive reviews on F1000 within a year of publication from researchers praising the discovery of a highly effective new antibiotic. The research has also been referenced in three policy documents, most recently in September 2018 by the Analysis & Policy Observatory in their publication that looks ahead at the potential impacts of synthetic biology over the next twelve years.

2016 – United States Health Care Reform 

This paper, written by none other than the 44th President of the USA, Barack Obama, continues to be the most mentioned piece of research we’ve ever tracked! The subject of the paper is the President’s Affordable Care Act, has been mentioned in news articles as recently as September this year as well as blogs and Reddit threads discussing how amazing it was that an American president wrote a journal article.  

2017 – Associations of fats and carbohydrate intake with cardiovascular disease and mortality in 18 countries from five continents (PURE): a prospective cohort study 

Having been published in November 2017 this paper received a huge amount of online attention immediately after publication, enough to take it to the number one Top 100 spot within a month. More recently the paper has been featured in stories in The Guardian and The New York Times blog.


Unexpected science

In each year’s list, there are usually papers that have unexpected authors, are about noticeable  topics or that just simply stand out from the crowd:


We hope you enjoyed this look back at the insights and highlights from the first years of Top 100 lists. If you’re curious to explore the data for yourself, check out the full list of Top 100s from throughout the years or download each year’s data on Figshare.

This year’s Top 100 list is just around the corner and promises to be another year of amazing discoveries, insights and breakthroughs. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and Instagram and search #altmetrictop100 to stay up to date with Top 100 announcements.

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