Top 100 most shared academic papers of 2016

Research by sitting President Obama on US healthcare reform was not only the most widely discussed and shared academic paper of 2016, it resulted in the highest Altmetric Attention Score ever tracked. Obama’s paper on the progress of the Affordable Healthcare Act and recommendations for future governments in the medical journal JAMA also marked a first from a sitting president.

The annual Altmetric Top 100 highlights published research papers in 2016 that have generated significant international online attention and discussion – from mainstream news media, blogs,  Wikipedia, social media platforms (including Twitter, Reddit & Facebook) and in scholarly spaces such as post-publication peer-review forums and patient advocacy groups.

Top 10 articles of 2016 are:

  1. President Obama’s paper on the progress achieved with the United States’ landmark healthcare legislation and lessons for future policy makers
  2. Medical error is the third largest cause of death in the US
  3. Phenomenon of two distant black holes colliding observed and celebrated
  4. New giant planet may be lurking in our solar system
  5. Sugar industry sponsored research to draw consumers’ attention away from sugar’s impact on coronary heart disease
  6. Emergence of Zika and the resulting risk of microcephaly and brain damage to infants of affected mothers alarmed parents-to-be the world over
  7. Your social status may have a direct impact on your life expectancy
  8. Wearing a fitness tracker doesn’t appear to improve weight loss
  9. Artificial intelligence beats human European Go champion for the first time
  10. One of the world’s astronomical wonders, the Milky Way, is invisible to 60 per cent of Europeans due to light pollution

The strength of international collaboration

Many articles in the Top 100 feature contributions from a large number of authors spread across continents. Strength in US and mainland European collaborations is evidenced in the 49 papers featuring authors from those regions, whilst authors from Canada and Australia most often collaborated with peers in the US and Germany.

  • US researchers (75 papers with US authors ) continue to be largest contributors, followed by their British counterparts (33 papers with UK authors).
  • 45 papers featured European authors, including the UK.
  • Almost half of the Top 100 were the result of papers co-authored by US & European researchers, not including the UK.
  • 5 papers had both (but only) UK and US authors.
  • Authors from Canada collaborated most closely with authors from the US (6 papers) and Germany (5 papers).
  • Australian institutions collaborated the most with the UK and US (worked with both on 7 articles) followed by Germany.

Topical issues

Some key themes stood out. Scientific research, technology and humanity continue to intersect and capture the public’s attention.

The most widely discussed research topics in 2016 were:

  • Medical and health sciences (49)
  • Biological sciences (14)
  • Studies on human society (12)
  • Physical sciences (6)
  • Earth & environmental sciences (6)

Medical and public health issues drew high levels of media attention. The Zika virus, as expected, generated a lot of discussion and engagement with wider audiences, with research in this field focussing on the link between Zika and causality of birth defects like microcephaly.

Technological advances and their impact on humanity, both positive and negative, also stood out in this year’s list. For instance virtual reality technology was used to assist with the neurological rehabilitation in paraplegic patients. Smartphones usage in the dark led to the reported temporary loss of vision in some.

Euan Adie, Founder of Altmetric, said of the Top 100: “This list really highlights where academic research published this year has clearly caught the public’s imagination. The volume of attention individual publications are receiving online has significantly increased, and we continue to see increased engagement amongst a huge variety of audiences. All of this speaks to the importance of making original research available to a broader audience, and to the need to ensure research findings are communicated in an accurate and responsible way.”

View the full list