Science

The Science That's Never Been Cited (nature.com) 91

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Nature: One widely repeated estimate, reported in a controversial article in Science in 1990, suggests that more than half of all academic articles remain uncited five years after their publication. Scientists genuinely fret about this issue, says Jevin West, an information scientist at the University of Washington in Seattle who studies large-scale patterns in research literature. After all, citations are widely recognized as a standard measure of academic influence: a marker that work not only has been read, but also has proved useful to later studies. Researchers worry that high rates of uncitedness point to a heap of useless or irrelevant research. In reality, uncited research isn't always useless. What's more, there isn't really that much of it, says Vincent Lariviere, an information scientist at the University of Montreal in Canada.

To get a better handle on this dark and forgotten corner of published research, Nature dug into the figures to find out how many papers actually do go uncited (explore the full data set and methods). It is impossible to know for sure, because citation databases are incomplete. But it's clear that, at least for the core group of 12,000 or so journals in the Web of Science -- a large database owned by Clarivate Analytics in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania -- zero-citation papers are much less prevalent than is widely believed. Web of Science records suggest that fewer than 10% of scientific articles are likely to remain uncited. But the true figure is probably even lower, because large numbers of papers that the database records as uncited have actually been cited somewhere by someone.
"The new figures [...] suggest that in most disciplines, the proportion of papers attracting zero citations levels off between five and ten year after publication, although the proportion is different in each discipline," the report adds. "Of all biomedical-sciences papers published in 2006, just 4% are uncited today; in chemistry, that number is 8% and in physics, it is closer to 11%. In engineering and technology, the uncitedness rate of the 2006 cohort of Web of Science-indexed papers is 24%, much higher than in the natural sciences."
Medicine

Contact Lens Startup Hubble Sold Lenses With a Fake Prescription From a Made-up Doctor (qz.com) 325

Alison Griswold, reporting for Quartz: The Hubble contacts sitting in front of me are everything the ads promised: two weeks' worth of soft, daily lenses in robin's-egg-blue packaging. They arrived promptly, one week after I placed an order on Hubble's website, and three days after the company notified me the contacts had shipped. The lenses were packed in cream-colored boxes and came with a five-step guide, illustrated in different shades of pastel. There's only one problem: I don't wear contacts, and I ordered these using a fake prescription from a made-up doctor. Hubble was founded in May 2016 as a direct-to-consumer contact lens brand -- the Warby Parker of contacts, if you will. The company aims to make buying contact lenses as cheap and easy as shopping on Amazon. It has fast become a star of New York's startup scene, raising more than $30 million from investors that include Founders Fund and Greycroft Partners. Its valuation tops $200 million. Since the service officially launched in November 2016, Hubble claims to have sold $20 million worth of lens subscriptions, and says it's growing 20% month over month. Hubble expanded to Canada in August and plans to be in the UK as early as January. Quick service, cheap contacts, and whimsical branding have made Hubble a speedy success. But in its rush to disrupt the consumer experience, Hubble also appears to be playing fast and loose with some basic consumer protections.
Space

Astronomers Have Come Up With a Better Way To Weigh Millions of Solitary Stars (vanderbilt.edu) 43

Science_afficionado writes: By measuring the flicker pattern of light from distant stars, astronomers have developed a new and improved method for measuring the masses of millions of solitary stars, especially those hosting exoplanets. Stevenson Professor of Physics and Astronomy Keivan Stassun says, "First, we use the total light from the star and its parallax to infer its diameter. Next, we analyze the way in which the light from the star flickers, which provides us with a measure of its surface gravity. Then we combine the two to get the star's total mass." Stassun and his colleagues describe the method and demonstrate its accuracy using 675 stars of known mass in an article titled "Empirical, accurate masses and radii of single stars with TESS and GAIA" accepted for publication in the Astronomical Journal.

David Salisbury via Vanderbilt University explains the other methods of determining the mass of distant stars, and why they aren't always the most accurate: "Traditionally, the most accurate method for determining the mass of distant stars is to measure the orbits of double star systems, called binaries. Newton's laws of motion allow astronomers to calculate the masses of both stars by measuring their orbits with considerable accuracy. However, fewer than half of the star systems in the galaxy are binaries, and binaries make up only about one-fifth of red dwarf stars that have become prized hunting grounds for exoplanets, so astronomers have come up with a variety of other methods for estimating the masses of solitary stars. The photometric method that classifies stars by color and brightness is the most general, but it isn't very accurate. Asteroseismology, which measures light fluctuations caused by sound pulses that travel through a star's interior, is highly accurate but only works on several thousand of the closest, brightest stars." Stassun says his method "can measure the mass of a large number of stars with an accuracy of 10 to 25 percent," which is "far more accurate than is possible with other available methods, and importantly it can be applied to solitary stars so we aren't limited to binaries."

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