- By 2018, scientists around the world have published studies on a wide range of new discoveries.
- Their research has uncovered new truths about what is best for human health, how we are impacting our planet and the emergence of false news.
- Here are the 10 most discussed scientific studies of the year – research that outraged, fascinated, thwarted, intrigued, charmed and changed the world.
Scientific discovery can be a silent enterprise.
Many scientific research takes place in windowless labs behind bright computer screens and in remote areas and forests. But when scientists publish their work, they inform the world about what they have found.
A new scientific study can captivate the public's imagination, fuel vibrant discussions, or even change public policy. Such was the case of some of the most commented scientific discoveries of the year.
The following list of the top 10 scientific discoveries of 2018 comes from Altmetric's data analysts, who analyzed how many research papers were discussed on science blogs, social media (Twitter, Facebook) and in published articles. They also took into account which studies were cited in the Wikipedia entries and how many of them reported on public policy.
The survey in the top 10 list looked at our diets, the health of the planet and even how fake news spread online. Here are the most influential and commented studies of the past year.
A team of public health researchers interviewed 3,299 Puerto Rican families after Hurricane Maria hit the island. They found that the official death toll of the government was very low.
The team, led by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, went from house to house in remote and urban areas of Puerto Rico. They asked people if someone in their home had died during – or as a result – of the hurricane.
These surveys led researchers to estimate that the true number of Mary's dead on the island could be as low as 793 or as high as 8,498. Anyway, that was far more than the death toll of 64 the government had reported.
Not all of Mary's victims were killed when the Category 4 storm hit the island.
The research team, whose findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine, said at least one-third of deaths occurred after the storm, as people could not save lives amid destruction.
In August, the Puerto Rican government acknowledged the discovery and discreetly increased the official death toll to more than 1,400. But the true number could be even greater.
MIT researchers tracked how fake news spread online and found that they moved much faster than the truth.
Surprise and loathing are powerful emotions and are effective motivators when it comes to the spread of false news and misinformation.
MIT researchers examined 126,000 Twitter posts tweeted by about 3.5 million users between 2006 and 2017. They found that a fake post spreads to 1,500 new eyes six times faster than the truth. Their results also showed that lies were 70% more likely to be retweet, no matter how many followers the account had and regardless of whether it was verified.
"Humans, not robots, are more likely to spread it," the researchers wrote in the journal Science.
They think there may be a simple reason why false news is more appealing than the truth: they are bright and new.
"We found that the false news was more recent than the true news, which suggests that people were more likely to share new information," the researchers said. "While false stories inspired fear, disgust and surprise at the answers, true stories inspired anticipation, sadness, joy, and confidence."
A global study of drinkers in 195 countries suggested that no amount of alcohol is good for our health. But the results were not so simple.
Drinking too much can have dangerous consequences.
The authors of a major study published in the Lancet have found that the more people in the world are drinking, the greater the likelihood of developing cancer and the more likely they are to die.
The research has caused an uproar, as the authors have suggested that there is no safe level of alcohol. Journalists around the world quickly picked up the headline and ran with it.
But there is some evidence that a moderate amount of drink (say, one drink per day) can help protect against some health conditions, especially heart disease and diabetes. The lead author of the Lancet study, Max Griswold of the University of Washington, said that it does not matter, because "combined health risks" associated with alcohol increase "with any amount of alcohol."
Others are not so sure.
"Just because something is not healthy in large quantities does not mean we should abstain altogether," Professor Aaron Carroll of the Indiana University School of Medicine wrote in The New York Times after the study was published.
It is also important to remember that Griswold's findings were not based on entirely new research. Instead, his team reviewed nearly 600 previous alcohol studies for a meta-analysis. Meta-analyzes can hamper accuracy control, since different researchers conduct studies in dramatically different ways.
In addition, other unmeasured factors could also explain the increase in deaths and health problems in drinkers. People who consume alcohol can be stressed, smoke or have other underlying health problems or genetic differences that make them more likely to develop diseases.
"We could spend lives arguing where the queue is for many people," Carroll wrote. "The truth is we just do not know."
In August, scientists predicted that we might be heading into a "Greenhouse Earth" scenario, where the planet warms rapidly, shifting from self-cooling to self-heating.
"If this were to happen, the world would have been much warmer than it was for at least 1.2 million years," wrote Kevin Loria of Business Insider when the article was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in August. around the world would probably rise by 33 to 200 feet more than they are now. "
The cascade effect of this warming would be felt around the world. Permafrost that currently imprisons greenhouse gases near the poles would melt, the ice sheets of the world would melt and the Amazon rainforest (known as the "lungs of the planet") could die.
This is not just bad news for plants and animals; it would also mean more flooded homes, stronger hurricanes, more intense forest fires, and dirtier air.
Fortunately, the scientists behind this "Hothouse Earth" prediction believe there is still time to change course. In October, they created a more promising report suggesting ways to avoid disaster.
His suggestions involve major changes in the ways we grow food and distribute money to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.
"Earth's life support systems are worth it," the authors wrote.
Scientists have found even more evidence that exercise is a great way to improve their mental health. It does not matter much what kind of workout you do.
A study of 1.2 million US adults published in The Lancet Psychiatry reported, unsurprisingly, that people who exercised regularly tended to feel better.
In the study, the researchers looked at national surveys of the Centers for Disease Control and found that people who said they exercised reported fewer days when their mental health was "not good."
It did not matter if people were participating in team sports, going to the gym, cycling outdoors, going for a walk or even doing some housework, the study authors found. Any kind of exercise worked, as long as people moved three to five times a week, the researchers said.
"This study reiterates the wide range of health benefits for exercise, regardless of age, race, sex, income, or physical health," said senior study author Adam Chekroud, a psychiatry researcher at Yale University in New York. Haven. "Every little bit helps – as low as 30 minutes – and every exercise group, including walking, was associated with less mental health burden."
Other studies suggest that exercise can reduce stress, keep the heart healthy, protect against cognitive decline, and give you a better chance of avoiding a premature death.
Scientists have studied the diets of more than 447,000 people around the world, and may have focused on the optimal carbohydrate dose for a long life.
The researchers analyzed the diets of people in more than 20 countries around the world and compared that information with people's lifespan.
They found that in general, people who consumed a moderate amount of carbohydrates (about half a person's daily calories) and sticking to whole grains and unprocessed foods were better. The results were published in The Lancet.
Lead researcher Sara Seidelmann, a cardiologist and nutrition researcher at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, told Business Insider that a diet "rich in whole-grain foods such as vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts is associated with healthy aging."
Like the study on drinking, this research was a meta-analysis, which means we can not say with certainty that food is responsible for longer lives. It may be that people who consume about 50% of their daily carbohydrate calories tend to live longer for other reasons such as genetics or wealth that were not measured by this study.
More randomized controlled trials would help us know for sure.
We have new evidence that a large pile of garbage in the ocean between California and Hawaii is collecting plastic at an astronomical rate.
A study published in the March issue of Scientific Reports found that there may be more than 16 times more plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch than scientists previously thought.
The Ocean Cleanup Foundation visited the site in 2015 with 18 ships and used trawls to estimate how much plastic there was in the area, with over 617,800 square miles wide. They reported the results of this work this spring.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is not the only place garbage gets stuck in the ocean – there are at least four others scattered around the world. They are floating reminders of the impact our plastic use has on oceans and marine life.
A study of 1,290 cancer patients found that those who opted for alternative cancer treatments were twice as likely to die.
For the study, the researchers looked at patients with early-stage cancer of the breast, prostate, lung or colorectal cancer. Some patients have opted to use "complementary medicine" which may include herbs, supplements, acupuncture, special diets and other treatments that have not been clinically proven. These treatments may help alleviate the symptoms but they have not proven to cure the cancer.
Researchers found that patients who used complementary treatments were more likely to delay or refuse conventional treatments such as chemotherapy, surgery, radiation or hormone therapy. These delays and denials, in turn, led to higher mortality rates.
"Unfortunately, there is great confusion about the role of complementary therapies," said Dr. Skyler Johnson of the Yale School of Medicine in a statement published in JAMA Oncology. "Although they can be used to support patients who have symptoms of cancer treatment, it appears they are being marketed or understood as effective cancer treatments."
Coral reefs are dying at alarming rates, and this has serious consequences for people.
A study published in Nature in April revealed that one-third of Great Barrier Reef coral was killed as a result of a heat wave in 2016.
Other reefs around the world are also dying fast: some estimates suggest that we have lost half of the world's reefs in the past 30 years. About a quarter of the world's fish species thrive on coral reefs at some point in their life cycles. The reefs also protect our homes, since they protect the coast from storms, floods and erosion.
But that is not all.
"Do you like to breathe?" Michael Crosby, a marine scientist and president of the Mote Laboratory and Aquarium, asked the Business Insider earlier this year. "It is estimated that up to 80% of the oxygen you are breathing in now comes from the ocean. It does not come from the earth. For you to continue breathing, you need to have a healthy ocean. "
Finally, humans were given a reminder about how insignificant we are, despite the tremendous impact we are having on the environment.
In May, scientists calculated how much life on Earth weighs. Their findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reveal that humans are an insignificant part of the planet: 0.01% of global biomass.
Plants dominate the Earth, weighing about 7,500 times more than people. But despite our own insignificance, the human effects on the planet go far beyond our own species.
"A worldwide census of the total number of trees, as well as a comparison of the actual and potential biomass of the plants, has suggested that the total biomass of the plants (and by proxy, the total biomass on Earth) has fallen approximately twice as value. before the beginning of human civilization, "wrote the authors of the study.
In addition to killing half of the world's plants, "mankind has caused the loss of 83% of all wild mammals," The Guardian reported when the study was released.
It is a reminder that the consequences of human activity now threaten most of life on Earth.
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