The top 5 most talked-about studies of April

The fall of insects, the rise of zombie brains, and the catalysts of political unrest dominated the conversation around April's research offerings.

29 May 2019

Bec Crew

Svetlana Zayats / EyeEm / Getty

April seemed positively apocalyptic considering the papers that got the most attention from news outlets, blogs, and social media. Catastrophic declines in crucial insect groups, protesting youths, and the spectacularly creepy reanimation of dead pigs' brains dominated discussions online.

But there's hope in these strange times, as exemplified by the real potential of a device called a neural decoder, which could give a voice to those who have lost theirs through stroke, traumatic brain injury, or neurodegenerative disease, and significant declines of cervical cancer in Scotland.

Here's Altmetric's ranking of the five most talked-about studies last month:

1. Worldwide decline of the entomofauna: A review of its drivers

Biological Conservation

The plight of insects came to the fore in April with this review of reports of insect declines from across the globe, and an investigation into the causes.

The study, by ecologists Francisco Sánchez-Bayo from the University of Sydney and Kris A.G. Wyckhuys from the University of Queensland, both in Australia, found that more than 40% of insect species are now threatened with extinction.

Habitat loss due to intensive agricultural activity was found to be the main driver of the declines, and butterflies, moths, bees, ants, and dung beetles were among the groups most affected.

The paper was particularly popular on Twitter, featuring in 4,595 tweets, and has clocked 31 citations from the research community in a matter of weeks. It was also controversial, which could have further driven the discussions.

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2. Restoration of brain circulation and cellular functions hours post-mortem

Nature

Zombie brains set newsrooms into overdrive last month, as researchers at Yale University announced that they had managed to keep pig brains alive outside the body for hours after death.

The study, which brings into question many fundamental assumptions about the nature of death, was mentioned by 350 news outlets from around the world, and almost 1,995 Twitter users.

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3. Concerns of young protesters are justified

Science

Thousands of scientists from the around the world signed a letter published in Science declaring that the concerns of young climate protesters are justified and supported by the best available science. "The current measures for protecting the climate and biosphere," says the group, "are deeply inadequate."

The paper, which prompted 7,552 users to tweet about it almost 10,000 times, was one of two politically focussed articles in the top five most talked-about scientific articles in April.

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4. Speech synthesis from neural decoding of spoken sentences

Nature

The title might not sound like much, but technology that can translate thought into speech is a pretty irresistible proposition.

This study, by researchers in the Department of Neurological Surgery at the University of California San Francisco, not only proposed the idea of this technology being realistic, but actually built a neural decoder and tested it out with volunteers across more than 100 trials.

The paper got mentions across the board, by news outlets and blogs, on social media, and on Wikipedia.

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5. Prevalence of cervical disease at age 20 after immunisation with bivalent HPV vaccine at age 12-13 in Scotland

British Medical Journal

The finding that the HPV vaccine is linked to a "dramatic" drop in cervical disease in Scotland was a big news story for April, the BBC reporting that "the vaccine had led to a 90% cut in pre-cancerous cells".

It was covered by more than 100 news outlets, and mentioned by some 5,543 users on Twitter.

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Tweets, citations, and other measures accurate as of 29 May 2019.

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