Can you guess which science story was the most talked about in 2016?
It's a tough one — there were a lot of great science studies. We had the paper that linked Zika and birth defects, for instance. Plus there was the evidence of Einstein-affirming gravitational waves, the mysterious Planet Nine, and that time scientists tried to teach a computer Go.
But there was one story that ruled them all, according to the U.K. firm Altmetric. They analyzed over 17 million mentions of nearly 3 million pieces of research, tracking not just how they were received in the scientific community, but how they were talked about by the news and social media.
So who won? The freakin' president of the United States of America.
That's right. It's Obama. Back in June, Obama published a real, scientific, peer-reviewed article in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The paper, "United States Health Care Reform: Progress to Date and Next Steps," was kind of a report card on Obamacare.
It's free to read, but boiled down, it basically said that based on an analysis of public data, the Affordable Care Act had positive effects on insurance coverage, access to care, and overall health. Of course, there were still some significant gaps that future policymakers could fix. Basically, the paper gave Obamacare a B+.
The paper dominated Altmetric's analysis, garnering their highest score ever, largely fueled by a gigantic public reaction.
It's kind of cool to see this marriage of policy and science. It's also an awesome reminder that Obama is a giant, unabashed nerd.
This paper made Obama the first president to ever write a proper scientific paper while in office. That said, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have published opinions in the past, and, weirdly, it turns out Thomas Jefferson was really into writing about giant sloths.
This end-of-the-year surprise feels especially apropos considering how much of a talking point Obamacare was during the election and the fact that its future seems uncertain at this point.