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Our Top 17 in ’17: The Year in Science at PLOSBLOGS

By Victoria Costello

As managing editor of The PLOS Blogs Network, I’m grateful to SciComm blog writers/editors Jason Organ, Bill Sullivan, and Krista Hoffmann-Longtin for providing space on this blog — which they have so ably managed since July of this year — so that I can post this annual recognition of the most popular and influential blog posts published on the network during the twelve months that conclude this month.

Since its 2010 launch, the PLOS Blogs Network has sought to feed the voracious appetite of our 2.5 million regular readers for posts revealing how researchers go about making science and why this work matters. We’re not surprised then at year’s end to find that the most widely read blog posts out of the 500+ we published in 2017 feature backstories of the discoveries that made media headlines elsewhere — along with many more that didn’t. In addition to explaining the latest research, PLOSBLOGS encourages its contributors to share insights into where these new findings fit within accepted science or how they may disrupt previously accepted science in over a dozen disciplines. (See a complete list of Top 17 in ’17 below this post).

So without further ado, I offer these highlights, including some posts that stand out for reasons other than sheer numbers earned…

Among the most read, shared and discussed blog posts that appeared this year on PLOSBLOGS is Mary Bates’ Internet-breaking report on the invasive wild pigs who left a swath of destruction across several southwestern US states. In the same league are a series on the PLOS Paleo blog describing winning species and authors from our annual Top Ten Open Access Fossil Taxa competition. The winners were chosen by 600 participating researchers from the PLOS Paleo Community who collectively demonstrate that, among scientists, palaeontologists clearly have the most fun. For example, check out Jon Tennant’s portrait of the creature voted number four in this year’s survey, “Zuul,” which, as Jon explains, is not only the first known ankylosaurine with an intact skull & tail club, it is the only dinosaur to receive its name from a famous movie villain, i.e. Ghostbusters circa 1984.

Then there’s geneticist Ricki Lewis’ invocation of the fictional lessons of Jurassic Park in her argument against using today’s most cutting-edge science, CRISPR-based genome editing, to jumpstart extinctions of nuisance species, no matter how unwanted. And, a neuroscientist sharing research that explains why certain people hate certain sounds, as told to PLOS Neuro’s Emilie Reas.

From your local health clinic and beyond

With a core part of our content, PLOSBLOGS aims to translate peer-reviewed medical research for everyday use, for example: Is 15,000 Steps the New 10,000? Appearing in our most-visited blog, Obesity Panacea, this post by Peter Janisjewski explains how readers, especially the Fitbit-crazed among us, can understand and apply the latest evidence informing exercise and weight loss standards.

Similarly, the PLOS staff-written and edited blog, Speaking of Medicine continued its practice of unpacking the clinical and policy implications of medical research with domestic and global impact. Two Top 17 posts, both authored by PLOS NTD’s Co-Editor-in-Chief Peter Hotez — The Why Vaccines Don’t Cause Autism Papers and 2017 Global Infectious Disease Threats — offered clarity on real and misunderstood health risks around the globe.

PLOSBLOGS also ran posts on our Your Say guest blog addressing critical issues in international health and medicine, including a series of individual perspectives on the election of the new WHO Director General, and another challenging the diminishing role of the US in global health treatment, titled Why Rex Tillerson shouldn’t gut global AIDS funding.

Much of the commentary posted on PLOSBLOGS’ in 2017 reinforces another characteristic shared by our bloggers and readers: a persnickety insistence that the scientific enterprise continue to improve on itself. This tendency is on display in posts exposing common pitfalls in the making (and publishing) of science, including the issues of: research biases, data availability or lack thereof, the spinning or misinterpretation of results and problems in peer review. Hilda Bastian whose Absolutely Maybe blog is among our most popular, led again with her writing on research methods, biases and assessment with posts such as her timely Rebranding Retractions and the Honest Error Hypothesis. And in the fraught territory of what constitutes a real vs. “fake” Open Access journal, don’t miss Bill Sullivan’s (writer/editor at ScicommHow to Catch a Predatory Publisher.

Science in the line of fire

Along with these continuing trends, in 2017, PLOSBLOGS reflected the year’s uniquely unsettling landscape for those who practice or write about scientific research. Namely, the far-reaching war on science being conducted by the Trump administration, an assault on facts which, as several of our bloggers have noted, constitutes a removal of scientific evidence from the formation and discussion of public policy and an evisceration of funding and communication of vital research in medical research and regulation, public health, climate, energy, agriculture and education.

The depth and speed of these efforts to undermine science and evidence-based research spurred many researchers to find a collective voice to fight back. The degree to which this stance of public protest represents a departure from the typical scientist’s demeaner and comfort level cannot be overstated. PLOSBLOGS offered a platform for members of the community to discuss and strategize their responses to these events. Two such accounts can be found in February’s The Time is Right for Assertive Science: Scicomm in the Age of Trump in our Scicomm blog and Balancing Science and Advocacy in the Face of Climate Denial: A climate scientist reports from COP23, which ran in November on the PLOS Ecology blog,

A similar shift occurred in many scientific societies and among publishers. In Stand Up for Science on The Official PLOS Blog, PLOS explained why, as a publisher and advocate for Open Access, it felt compelled to join the national outcry that begat the March 2017 March for Science and the ongoing movement in support of science and scientists.

In related developments, 2017 also saw an accelerated recognition by many in our community of the importance of training the next generation of scientists to perform sound science and communicate it to the wider world. Our newly expanded SciComm and SciEd blog teams have created flourishing platforms to share research in these disciplines, along with interpretation and commentary probing how such findings can inform scholarly publishing and current social and political issues for scientists who wish to contribute to these conversations.

Standout posts of this kind included a compilation of lessons for science educators from the anti-vaccination movement, an assessment of academic research informing best practices in science communication and a breakdown of faulty biological science used in last summer’s so-called Google Manifesto.

We are proud of work that appeared on the PLOSBLOGS Network in 2017 and wish to thank our bloggers, including staff, independent and guest contributors, all of whom juggle science writing with demanding science-related day jobs. Each has helped make The PLOS Blogs Network an essential player in the ongoing scientific conversation.

The PLOSBLOGS Top 17 in ’17

(By the numbers; including sessions and pageviews)

  1. Invasive Wild Pigs Leave a Swath of Destruction Across U.S. And They Keep Spreading by Mary Bates, PLOS Ecology
  2. The Why Vaccines Don’t Cause Autism Papers by Peter Hotez, Speaking of Medicine.
  3. Is 15,000 Steps Really the New 10,000? by Peter Janiszewski, Obesity Panacea
  4. Synapsida – Gotta Catch’em All by Jon Tennant, PLOS Paleo
  5. 2017 Global Infectious Disease Threats by Peter Hotez, Speaking of Medicine
  6. Saving GINA (Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act): Is Genetic Privacy Imperiled? by Ricki Lewis, DNA Science
  7. Saturated Biases: Where the AHA Advice on Coconut Oil Went Wrong by Hilda Bastian, Absolutely Maybe
  8. The Top Five Human Evolution Discoveries of 2017, by Briana Pobiner and Ella Beaudoin, SciComm
  9. The Google Manifesto, Bad Biology, Ignorance of Evolutionary Processes & Privilege by Agustin Fuentes, SciComm.
  10. Stand Up for Science, the Official PLOS Blog.
  11. 5 Tips for Understanding Data in Meta-Analyses by Hilda Bastian, Absolutely Maybe.
  12. How to Catch a Predatory Publisher by Bill Sullivan, SciComm
  13. Communicating basic science: What goes wrong, why we must do it, and how we can do it better? by Andreas Prokop, SciComm
  14. What Can the Anti-Vaccination Movement Teach Us About Improving the Public’s Understanding of Science? by Jeanne Garbarino, Sci-Ed.
  15. Misophonia: The Brain Basis of Hatred of Sound by Emilie Reas, PLOS Neuro
  16. Who Should lead WHO? Parts 1-3, by multiple authors, Your Say.
  17. When Will CRISPR Get a Nobel Prize? by Aaron Dy in PLOS Synbio

See how this year’s top posts compared to 2016, read Where did science go last year? PLOSBLOGS’ Top 16 in 2016.

 


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