News coverage of WSU research reaches millions

Egyptian painting of cattle and workers
Fragen An Die Natur, via The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1948/Wikimdia Commons

By Eric Sorensen, WSU News

From rising inequality and declining Monarch butterfly populations to a particle with negative mass, news coverage about Washington State University research reached millions of people last year.

News outlets ran the gamut of the nation’s most popular media, including CNN, The Washington Post and National Public Radio, as well as specialty science publications like Science and all the region’s major news vehicles.

The WSU Marketing and Communications office analyzed every research news story distributed to reporters from the central news office or posted to EurekAlert, a subscription news service sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Each news article was analyzed in the Cision news database, which monitors the vast majority of news outlets covering a given subject and computes their potential audience based on outlets’ circulations or unique visitors. The potential audience serves as a guide to relative popularity; the number of actual readers is significantly smaller, as readers and visitors rarely take in every story in a periodical or website.

Of all the stories generated by WSU public information officers, the most popular was a study by Regents Professor Tim Kohler looking at how prehistoric disparities in wealth mounted with the rise of agriculture, specifically the domestication of plants and large animals, and increased social organization. News stories on the Nature study appeared in the Washington Post, the news section of Science, the Guardian, Economist, National Public Radio and on a segment on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS.” It had a potential audience of 491 million.

Physicist Michael Forbes’s Physical Review Letters paper on negative effective mass caught the eye of the Guardian, BBC, Yahoo!News and the social news aggregator Reddit. It had a potential audience of 399 million.

And a Biological Conservation study by Cheryl Schultz, associate professor at WSU Vancouver, was covered by the Tri-City Herald and the San Francisco Chronicle, among others. It had a potential audience of 327 million.

Stories generated by WSU communicators and posted to EurekAlert generated the bulk of media attention to the University research enterprise. One notable exception was doctoral student Ryne Rohla’s conclusion that political divisions were ruining Thanksgiving. Rohla, a doctoral candidate in economics, and UCLA Associate Professor Keith Chen used smartphone-tracking data and precinct-level voting to “show that politically-divided families shortened Thanksgiving dinners by 20-30 minutes following the divisive 2016 election.” The study had a combined potential audience of 536 million people and was covered by The Washington Post, Politico and CNN.

The top 20 stories are listed below with links to news releases, potential viewerships, top outlets in which they were featured, and possible reasons behind their success. Other WSU-stories are listed in order of popularity.

  1. Researchers chart rising wealth inequality across millennia

    491 million

    Washington Post, Science, National Public Radio, “Fareed Zakaria GPS”

    Economic inequality is currently part of the national conversation. Tax reform was looming as the study came out, and the United States has what Kohler called, “probably the highest wealth inequality for any developed country right now.”

  1. ‘Negative mass’ created at Washington State University

    399 million

    A finding that seems to defy Isaac Newton’s Third Law is bound to generate interest. Postings to Reddit made this one of the most popular stories on at

    Guardian, BBC, Yahoo!News

  1. Monarch butterflies disappearing from western North America

    327 million

    Tri-City Herald, San Francisco Chronicle, KUOW/EarthFix

    The environment may account for more science stories than any other field outside of health and medicine, and this story involves the functional extinction of a fairly charismatic insect.

  1. ‘Sleep gene’ offers clues about why we need our zzzs

    227 million

    Northwest News Network, Spokesman-Review, Daily Mail

    Everyone sleeps, or at least tries to, and it’s easy to be captivated by the thought of a gene playing a role in any behavior.

  1. Mechanism triggers spread of prostate cancer to bones

    113 million

    Coverage keyed off the role of antidepressants in containing the spread of cancer, an attractive angle. Two outlets in particular—The New York Post and the British Express—helped make this popular.

  1. Long-term cannabis use linked to muted stress response WSU study shows

    102 million

    The Washington Post, Spokesman-Review, Newsweek, KOMO

    Cannabis has a lot of currency, and now that it is legal in several states, we’re seeing a pent-up demand for new information on it. It’s a little edgy, too.

  1. Shoppers opting to skip Black Friday crowds, say it’s just another day

    98 million

    Spokesman-Review, Seattle Times, The (Tacoma) News Tribune

    Released in mid-November, the timing on this was spot-on.

  1. Smart city living lab partnership moves forwardAir quality sensors deployed in U. District smart city laboratory

    95 million

    Spokesman-Review, Yahoo!News

    Multiple news releases and outreach efforts by the Urbanova collective helped give this story legs.

  1. Gases from ancient Inland Northwest volcanic eruptions blocked out sun, cooling planet

    75 million

    Yahoo!News, Atlas Obscura

    Science knows of only two other bigger eruptions, so the only thing holding this story back is that it happened a few million years ago, not yesterday. On balance, that’s a good thing.

  1. Fremier and salmon sex

    61 million

    Sex that moves mountains: Spawning fish can influence river profiles

    Scientific American, Discover, IFLScience

    The story would have done better if it was also about death and money, but it did have sex.

  1. Researchers develop recycling for carbon fiber composites

    60 million

    Numerous television news web sites.

    This got a boost from an industry partner posting the story to a press release distribution service.

  1. Marijuana use may not aid patients in opioid addiction treatment

    56 million

    Pacific Northwest Inlander

    See reference to cannabis above.

  1. What’s powering your devices?

    45 million

    New York Daily News

  1. Scientists discover perennial hybrid of wheat, wheatgrass
  1. Novel 3-D manufacturing builds complex, bio-like materials

    36 million

    Science Blog, smattering of outlets, mostly techy

  1. Huge carbon sink exists in soil minerals WSU researcher finds

    36 million

    Newsweek, Columbian

  1. Technology helps preserve fertility of boys with cancer

    32 million


  1. Sperm changes documented years after chemotherapy
    31 million
  1. New device could turn heat energy into a viable fuel source
    30 million
  1. Cleveland police launching anti-bias training developed by WSU
    18 million
  1. Changing climate to bring more landslides on logged land WSU research shows
  2. Non-invasive prostate cancer diagnosing, monitoring
  3. Rewards treat alcohol abuse in those with mental illness
  4. IRS breaking law by mining data, probing social media, says WSU professor
  5. Fertility can hinge on uterus swimming conditions
  6. Algae cultivation technique could advance biofuels
  7. WSU looks for practices to thwart antimicrobial resistance
  8. Transformation of graphite into hexagonal diamond documented by WSU researchers
  9. High-efficiency building bloopers revealed through occupant studies
  10. Research advances energy savings for oil, gas industries
  11. WSU researchers see gene influencing performance of sleep-deprived people
  12. Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Heath professor named to National Academy of Medicine
  13. New catalyst meets challenge of cleaning exhaust from modern engines
  14. WSU researchers find wealth of fish at deep Hawaiian reef
  15. Researchers find new clues for nuclear waste cleanup
  16. WSU researchers see popular herbicide affecting health across generations
  17. Alternative to wasteful methane flaring developed by WSU researchers
  18. New way to characterize cellulose, advance bioproducts
  19. Grant will create fellowships for researchers with disabilities at WSU
  20. WSU researchers deliver first “nanotherapeutics” to tumor
  21. WSU physicists write with light, turn crystal into an electrical circuit
  22. WSU, PNNL convert biofuel waste into commodity, now targeting sewage sludge
  23. Experi-mint: Eucalyptus as alternative to dense jet fuel
  24. Computer approaches human skill for first time in brain challenge
  25. Global research team fills language gap in plant science
  26. Cassini spacecraft destruction bittersweet end for WSU alum
  27. WSU College of Medicine lands $10 million in new research grants
  28. Photographing the elusive, endangered lynx
  29. WSU receives NIH grant to study heart problems at molecular level
  30. Reducing opioid use via online pain management focus of $2.5M study
  31. Pacific NW raises a glass to perry — sparkling and still
  32. Algae cultivation technique could advance biofuels
  33. Natural plant defense could help fight cancer, Alzheimer’s
  34. Adults with disabilities benefitting from Affordable Care Act
  35. $1.77M NIH grant funds WSU professors’ smart-home technology research
  36. Vineyard, WSU scientists team up to battle orchard virus threat
  37. Pink snow mold destruction discovered in area wheat fields
  38. Sexual stereotypes can lead to unhealthy sexual relationships
  39. Researchers tackle impact of climate change on plants

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