Top 10 climate papers for news and social media attention in 2018. The Altmetric score provides an indicator of the attention the paper received, combining data from social media, news outlets, blogs and elsewhere (not all shown). Graphic: Rosamund Pearce / Carbon Brief

By Robert McSweeney
8 January 2019

(Carbon Brief) – In a year dominated by events such as Brexit, royal weddings, the Salisbury poisonings, US Supreme Court nominations and the World Cup, there was still space in the news media in 2018 for reporting on new climate research.

These new journal papers were reported around the world in news articles and blogs and shared on social media sites, such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Reddit. Tracking all these “mentions” was Altmetric, an organisation that scores and ranks papers according to the attention they receive. (Full details of how the Altmetric scoring system works can be found in an earlier article.)

Using Altmetric data for 2018, Carbon Brief has compiled its annual list of the 25 most talked-about climate change-related papers of the year. The infographic above shows which ones made it into the Top 10.

The most talked-about paper last year on any topic, not just climate change, was “Mortality in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria”, published in the New England Journal of Medicine. This came first in Altmetric’s Top 100 journal papers of 2018 with an overall Altmetric score of over 10,000.

The press focused on the study’s estimate that the number of deaths in Puerto Rico caused by Hurricane Maria in 2017 was around 70 times higher than official figures. The study received further coverage when Trump later tweeted his disagreement after Puerto Rico’s government increased its official death toll.

While the paper is related to climate change – human-caused warming is likely to have played a role in 2017’s unusually active hurricane season – it focuses on mortality statistics rather than the climate. Therefore, it does not it does not make it into Carbon Brief’s list of research papers.

The highest-ranked climate research paper is “Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene“, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (“PNAS”) and led by Prof Will Steffen of the Stockholm Resilience Centre and Australian National University. It accrued an Altmetric score of 6,061.

Widely referred to as the “Hothouse Earth” paper, the study explored the self-reinforcing “feedback loops” that could magnify how the Earth warms in response to rising greenhouse gas concentrations. These feedbacks could push the Earth’s climate beyond a “planetary threshold”, the paper suggests, which – if crossed – could “lock in a continuing rapid pathway toward much hotter conditions”. [more]

Analysis: The climate papers most featured in the media in 2018

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