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2018 Top 30 Global Sustainability Research Papers

A paper published last year suggests that the death toll of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico was more than 70 times the official estimate. This got people talking on social media and in the news, more so than any other scientific publication in 2018.

Altmetric annually ranks the 100 scientific papers that glean the most media attention as a simple measure of what sparks public interest. In 2018, they examined over 25 million media mentions of 2.8 million research articles. The altmetric score does not measure the calibre of the research or researcher.

At Future Earth, we used the list to identify the top 30 global sustainability articles. We were guided by the the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which recognize that eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, combating inequality within and among countries, preserving the planet, creating sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth and fostering social inclusion are linked to each other and are interdependent.  

About a third of the top 30 articles are food, diet or health-related and another third focus on troubling environmental phenomena like the garbage patch in the Pacific or the shrinking Antarctic ice sheet. Gender also pops up as a frequent theme.

Taking a closer look at the top five, papers #1 and #3 deal with climate change (SDG 13) while papers #2, #4 and #5 are all linked to SDG 3 – good health and well-being. In particular, SDG 3 includes specific targets to reduce premature mortality from non-communicable diseases and promote mental health, and to strengthen the prevention and treatment of substance abuse, including alcohol use.

To launch a monthly update, here’s the top 30 list, reflecting the many connections among natural and human systems.

The top 30 global sustainability articles of 2018 by Altmetric score:

  1. Mortality in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria (July 2018) New England Journal of Medicine
    Altmetric Score: 10710
  2. Alcohol use and burden for 195 countries and territories (August 2018) The Lancet
    Altmetric Score: 7178
  3. Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene (August 2018) PNAS
    Altmetric Score: 6150
  4. Association between physical exercise and mental health in 1.2 million individuals in the USA between 2011 and 2015: a cross-sectional study (August 2018) The Lancet Psychiatry
    Altmetric Score: 5761
  5. Dietary carbohydrate intake and mortality: a prospective cohort study and meta-analysis (August 2018) The Lancet Public Health
    Altmetric Score: 5250
  6. Evidence that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is rapidly accumulating plastic (March 2018)  Scientific Reports
    Altmetric Score: 5048
  7. The biomass distribution on Earth PNAS (May 2018)
    Altmetric Score:4447
  8. Global warming transforms coral reef assemblages (April 2018) Nature
    Altmetric Score: 4381
  9. Risk thresholds for alcohol consumption: combined analysis of individual-participant data for 599,912 current drinkers in 83 prospective studies (April 2018) The Lancet
    Altmetric Score 4017
  10. Health Care Spending in the United States and Other High-Income Countries (March 2018) JAMA
    Altmetric Score: 3763
  11. Decreases in global beer supply due to extreme drought and heat (October 2018) Nature Plants
    Altmetric Score: 3622
  12. Measles: Europe sees record number of cases and 37 deaths so far this year (August 2018) British Medical Journal
    Altmetric Score: 3555
  13. Mass balance of the Antarctic Ice Sheet from 1992 to 2017 (June 2018) Nature
    Altmetric Score:3308
  14. The trouble with girls: obstacles to women’s success in medicine and research – an essay by Laurie Garrett (December 2018) British Medical Journal
    Altmetric Score: 3204
  15. Worldwide trends in insufficient physical activity from 2001 to 2016: a pooled analysis of 358 population-based surveys with 1.9 million participants (September 2018) The Lancet Global Health
    Altmetric Score: 3037
  16. Evidence for a mental health crisis in graduate education (March 2018) Nature Biotechnology
    Altmetric Score: 2986
  17. Spatial and temporal patterns of mass bleaching of corals in the Anthropocene (January 2018) Science
    Altmetric Score: 2984
  18. No intrinsic gender differences in children’s earliest numerical abilities (July 2018)  NPJ Science of Learning
    Altmetric Score: 2938
  19. Forecasting life expectancy, years of life lost, and all-cause and cause-specific mortality for 250 causes of death: reference and alternative scenarios for 2016–40 for 195 countries and territories (October 2018) The Lancet
    Altmetric Score: 2925
  20. Relationship of gender differences in preferences to economic development and gender equality (October 2018) Science
    Altmetric Score: 2680
  21. Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers
    (June 2018) Science
    Altmetric Score: 2597
  22. The Lancet Commission on pollution and health (February 2018) The Lancet
    Altmetric Score: 2589
  23. Glyphosate perturbs the gut microbiota of honey bees (September 2018) PNAS
    Altmetric Score: 2571
  24. The carbon footprint of global tourism (May 2018) Nature Climate Change
    Altmetric Score: 2403
  25. The Gender-Equality Paradox in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education (February 2018) Psychological Science
    Altmetric Score: 2319
  26. The demise of the largest and oldest African baobabs (June 2018) Nature Plants
    Altmetric Score: 2271
  27. Climate-driven declines in arthropod abundance restructure a rainforest food web (October 2018) PNAS
    Altmetric Score: 2267
  28. Volatile chemical products emerging as largest petrochemical source of urban organic emissions (February 2018) Science
    Altmetric Score: 2266
  29. Rapid-onset gender dysphoria in adolescents and young adults: A study of parental reports (August 2018) PLoS ONE
    Altmetric Score: 2264
  30. Impact of Healthy Lifestyle Factors on Life Expectancies in the US Population (April 2018) Circulation
    Altmetric Score: 2260