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The 5 most popular scientific papers of January 2020

The most talked-about papers in January 2020 covered some serious ground, from climate models and cancer to the legendary Marie Antoinette syndrome and parrots being pals.

The top story, about the mechanism behind stress turning hair grey, has scored an impressive Altmetric score of 3,197 to date, followed by a review of former climate models, with a score of 2,196.

Here is an Altmetric ranking of January’s most popular papers in the natural sciences, published in the 82 high-quality journals tracked by the Nature Index.

1. “Hyperactivation of sympathetic nerves drives depletion of melanocyte stem cells”

Nature

Does stress really turn hair white? The evidence suggests there’s truth behind the so-called Marie Antoinette syndrome.

A team lead by Bing Zhang from the Harvard Stem Cell Institute identified the mechanism that drives premature greying in stressed mice.

The question now is what evolutionary advantage stress-induced greying could actually impart. As Shayla Clark and Christopher Deppmann write for Nature News and Views, it could be associated with experience, leadership, and trust.

“Perhaps an animal that has endured enough stress to ‘earn’ grey hair has a higher place in the social order than would ordinarily be conferred by that individual’s age,” they surmise.

The paper, which was the most talked-about for January 2020, has been covered by 236 online news outlets so far, and was tweeted about by more than 1,700 people.

2. “Evaluating the Performance of Past Climate Model Projections”

Geophysical Research Letters

Early climate modellers got global warming right, this popular paper by climate scientists at the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley), MIT, and NASA reports.

Led by Zeke Hausfather, a doctoral student in UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group, the paper reviewed 17 climate models published between the early 1970s and the late 2000s. They found that 14 of these models painted an accurate picture of the kind of warming that would occur in the years following their publication.

“The real message is that the warming we have experienced is pretty much exactly what climate models predicted it would be as much as 30 years ago,” Hausfather said in a press statement. “This gives us more confidence that today’s models are getting things largely right as well.”

 

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