From Instagram selfies to an ancient tattoo tool, Washington State University research made headlines around the world.

In 2019, the university distributed press releases for more than 65 scientific papers. The findings were seen potentially billions of times by readers and viewers worldwide, elevating WSU’s profile as a premier public research university.

The most popular stories of 2019 involved research that had a direct impact on human lives, particularly when it came to health—whether it was the finding that petting dogs and cats reduced stress, a discovery that the endocrine-disrupting chemical BPA was underestimated in humans or the potential of cannabis to relieve headaches. Two pieces on work and gender were also among the top research stories of 2019, not surprising given the advent of the #MeToo movement which caused many to look more closely at workplace relationships.

The WSU News staff analyzed the number of potential viewers or “reach” of each story similar to last year, but this time using Meltwater media tracking software, which replaced the former Cision. The new system now includes international media outlets as well as TV broadcasts, which provides a better representation of the audience of a given story. The potential “reach” number is a calculation based on each outlet’s circulation. In reality, the actual number is probably smaller because not every newspaper reader or TV viewer sees every article or segment. It is also an overlapping number, meaning one person who accesses different news sources may be counted multiple times, but it helps indicate how widely a story circulated.

Other big news:

While most research stories typically begin with peer-reviewed studies, two of the biggest stories of 2019 did not come directly from published papers:

How do you like them apples? The launch of the Cosmic Crisp apple in Dec. 2019 was the result of decades of work and a successful marketing effort which brought the story of the new WSU-developed apple to a potential 2.27 billion people. The apple’s taste and longevity has captured a lot of attention with more than 1,200 articles from NPR and The Wall Street Journal to Der Spiegel and the BBC, and the stories keep coming into 2020.

Earth to earth: Another big story came about organically when a Seattle company approached soil scientist Lynne Carpenter-Boggs in 2017 to conduct a pilot study on composting human remains. This year Washington became the first state to consider legalizing human composting, and more than 1,700 media outlets, including USA Today, the New York Times and the Washington Post ran stories which mentioned WSU’s role in the development, representing a potential reach of more than 3.28 billion.

Below are the top 10 research news stories of 2019 with links to their releases, reach numbers, examples of where they appeared and possible reasons behind their success. Following that is the rest of WSU research stories ranked by their reach.

  1. Study demonstrates stress reduction benefits from petting dogs, cats

    931.98 million

    BBC, Daily Mail, People, Salon

    People love their pets and apparently enjoy hearing good news about them. This study led by Patricia Pendry found that just 10 minutes of interacting with pets lowered college students’ cortisol, a major stress hormone.

  2. Study finds BPA levels in humans dramatically underestimated

    907.12 million

    The Guardian, Time Magazine, Consumer Reports, Fast Company

    This article is much like BPA itself, ubiquitous and alarming in its potential implications to human health. The endocrine-disrupting chemical bisphenol A (BPA) is found in a range of consumer plastics. WSU’s Patricia Hunt and colleagues developed a better way of measuring the BPA in humans and discovered our exposure had been underestimated.

  3. Cannabis reduces headache and migraine pain by half

    681.45 million

    ABC, Healthline, India Today, London Free Press

    Cannabis is popular but there’s a dearth of research—which makes people hungry for any news about it. Carrie Cuttler as well as many other WSU researchers are working to fill the knowledge gap between the plant’s popularity and its potential benefits and problems. This article attracted not only big health outlets in the US but also abroad in India, the UK and Canada.

  4. Selfie vs. Posie

    626.68 million

    Inc., Daily Mail, Seattle Times, Miami Herald

    Many people would love to know how others see them, and this study gave some insight into that — at least for Instagram. People who posted selfies were seen as more insecure compared to those who used posed pictures taken of them. Stories on this phenomena stretched from coast to coast and around the world to Indonesia, India, South Africa and the U.K. There’s no counting how many Instagram photos were changed.

  5. Oldest tattoo tool in western North America discovered

    512.12 million

    Smithsonian, Popular Mechanics, National Geographic

    This story had a lot of the “cool” factor: an unusual discovery of an overlooked ancient item found in a storage closet, the simplicity of the tool made of cactus spine, and the connection of the current popularity of tattoos to a distant past.

  6. Study finds flirting among coworkers can reduce stress

    477.40 million

    Marketwatch, Fast Company, Yahoo! Lifestyle, Esquire

    A surprising finding will always attract attention as did this study led by Leah Sheppard that found that some flirtatious attention can lower stress at least among colleagues. It’s less beneficial, though if it comes from the boss.

  7. Lentils will help you run faster: Communicating food benefits gets kids to eat healthier

    415.06 million

    Daily Mail, Mind Body Green, Philadelphia Inquirer

    Getting kids to eat their vegetables is a problem so intractable it’s a cliche. WSU associate professor Jane Lanigan’s practical advice to explain the benefits of healthy food got picked up far and wide.

  8. Keeping the taste, reducing the salt

    330.96 million

    The Week, King5, Delish

    Good news travels fast. WSU Food Science Professor Carolyn Ross led a team in developing and testing a different salt blend with lower levels of sodium chloride, the harmful part of salt, and found that most people couldn’t tell the difference between regular salt and the healthier kind.

  9. A potential new way to diagnose male infertility and pharmaceutical treatment options

    263.48 million

    Telegraph, CNBC, The Times

    Research led by Michael Skinner offered hope to people experiencing infertility and landed on the health sections of several prominent media sites.

  10. Instagram’s virtual features have real relationship benefits

    253.86 million

    News18, Free Press Journal

    Another study on how we present ourselves on Instagram captured more attention abroad than at home with several large media outlets in India reaching audiences in the millions.

Logos of various news outlets.

  1. Grizzlies show remarkable gene control before and during hibernation
  2. Plastic water bottles may one day fly people cross-country
  3. WSU researchers see health effects across generations from popular weed killer
  4. Getting mac and cheese to Mars
  5. Capturing bacteria that eat and breathe electricity
  6. College‑age males at bars, parties more likely to be sexually aggressive
  7. Timed release of turmeric stops cancer cell growth
  8. WSU researchers grow citrus disease bacteria in the lab
  9. Study shows fewer American Indians getting heart disease
  10. Researchers develop viable, environmentally-friendly alternative to Styrofoam
  11. An electric tongue can handle more spicy foods than you can
  12. Looking at how the brain reacts to boredom could help people cope
  13. Genetic discovery holds implications for better immunity, longer life
  14. WSU study to examine health benefits of outdoor preschools
  15. Sustaining roads with grape and agricultural waste
  16. Sensor can detect spoiled milk before opening
  17. Catalyst advance removes pollutants at low temperatures
  18. Most teens report using marijuana less often after legalization
  19. WSU researchers tease out genetic differences between cannabis strains
  20. WSU smart home tests first elder care robot
  21. Researchers use game theory to successfully identify bacterial antibiotic resistance
  22. Unlocking secrets of the ice worm
  23. Researchers uncover indoor pollution hazards
  24. Predictive modeling could help fight neighborhood crime
  25. Making it count
  26. Plant immune response blueprint found; disease resistance targeted
  27. Bioinspired nanoscale drug delivery method developed by WSU, PNNL researchers
  28. New drug-delivery technology promises efficient, targeted cancer treatment
  29. Searching for the characteristics of award-winning wine
  30. Milk or no milk? Study fills long‑time knowledge gap on babies with genetic disorder
  31. Research shows boredom is on the rise for adolescents, especially girls
  32. WSU study shows insulin can increase mosquitoes’ immunity to West Nile virus
  33. Researchers develop new lens manufacturing technique
  34. Public support for environmental spending hinges on White House
  35. Speeding up science on near‑Earth asteroids
  36. Amid genomic data explosion, scientists find proliferating errors
  37. Living at the edges
  38. Saving sage-grouse by relocation
  39. Who dominates the discourse of the past?
  40. WSU study links gene to sleep problems in autism
  41. Skipping one night of sleep may leave insomniacs twice as impaired
  42. Researchers uncover hidden deicer risks affecting bridge health
  43. You did what with my donation? When donors feel betrayed by charities
  44. Witnessing uncivil behavior
  45. Study identifies a potential new target for treatment of gout
  46. High‑performance grout aims to encapsulate Hanford secondary waste
  47. WSU’s One Health approach is a two‑for‑one stop for health care in Tanzania
  48. Murrow professor investigates gender-inclusive housing and friendships
  49. Start-ups must be aware of star employee pitfalls
  50. Alcohol advertisements influence bystanders’ intention to intervene in a sexual assault situation
  51. New technology promises improved treatment of inflammatory diseases
  52. New WSU technology to improve delivery of anti‑inflammatory drugs
  53. Special journal issue highlights shift work science, solutions
  54. IQ test for artificial intelligence systems
  55. Attractive businesswomen viewed as less trustworthy “Femmes Fatales”