The biggest WSU research stories of 2021
In many ways, 2021 was a year for the dogs.
As the pandemic dragged into its second year, Washington State University research that grabbed the most media attention either provided some comfort and hope or warned of more dangers ahead.
Two stories focusing on the benefits of man’s – or really woman’s – best friend made the top ten this year. A look forward to the happiness of travel came in second, and an innovative way to recycle plastic waste made third. On the other side, even amid the pandemic, people still wanted to read about climate change impacts to animals and humans alike as well as the negative aspects of cannabis and shift work.
As in previous years, all the stories that did the best highlighted novel or surprising findings and demonstrated a real-world impact in keeping with WSU’s land-grant mission.
WSU News staff analyzed 86 research press releases from 2021 using Meltwater media tracking software for its total potential audience reach. “Potential reach” numbers are usually large but were a bit smaller this year partially due to a change in Meltwater’s circulation ratings of some media outlets. Reach numbers are based on each media outlets’ circulation or viewership added together, so they contain duplicates since many news consumers may be counted more than once. Essentially, they tell us how many times research coverage may have been seen by a reader or viewer. Still, they provide a rough idea of how much public exposure WSU’s research enterprise is receiving.
Below are top 10 research stories of 2021, including their potential reach numbers, examples of resulting media articles, and a possible explanation for their success. Following that is the full listing of WSU research press releases ranked by their total potential reach.
Women influenced coevolution of dogs and humans
Daily Mail, Discover Magazine, New York Post, Seattle Times
Nothing like destroying a cliché to catch attention. The news that dogs are likely women’s best friend did just that. A cross-cultural analysis led by anthropology Ph.D. student Jaime Chambers and Professor Robert Quinlan found that when dogs had a special relationship with women, people were more likely to regard dogs as a type of person, treat them with affection and see them as a member of the family. The news hit more than 250 outlets, including more than 80 radio and TV broadcasts.
Frequent travel could make you 7% happier
CNBC, The Atlantic, Hindustan Times, Yahoo News
When this story came out in January 2021, a lot of travel options were closed, but that seemed to fuel an even greater desire to read about the happiness of getting out of town. This study, led by hospitality researcher Bamboo Chen also found that people who talk about possible vacations are more likely to take them.
New technology converts waste plastics to jet fuel in an hour
ABC15, ArsTechnica, Christian Science Monitor, MSN
An innovative chemical recycling solution to the tricky problem of persistent plastics attracted a lot of notice for the hope it presented. The technology developed in chemical engineering lab of Hongfei Lin shows promise to take simple plastics like those used for plastic bags and reuse them as jet fuel. The story was not only picked up in online and in print outlets, but by a national journalist from the E.W. Scripps Company whose syndicated story ran on TV news stations across the country.
Rare footage captured of jaguar killing ocelot at waterhole
CNET, The Telegraph, Gizmodo, IFLScience
Predators don’t usually prey on other predators, so the unusual imagery of a jaguar killing the smaller ocelot grabbed a lot of attention. WSU wildlife ecologist Dan Thornton also noted that the event occurred at a waterhole during a drought-stressed period in the Maya Biosphere Reserve, raising questions of whether climate change had an influence on the wild cat conflict.
Melting sea ice forces polar bears to travel farther for food
BBC, Billings Gazette, The London Economic, Yahoo News
Another major predator, the polar bear, is feeling the heat from climate change as this study led by WSU ecologist Anthony Pagano shows. The shrinking traditional arctic hunting grounds for polar bears in the Beaufort Sea area has contributed to an almost 30% decrease in their population. The polar bear plight gathered a wide range of interest from a small paper in Billings, Montana to the worldwide media juggernaut BBC.
Cannabis impacts sperm counts, motility in two generations of mice
Daily Mail, Daily Hunt, KIRO‑7
Several stories this year demonstrate how WSU’s growing leadership in cannabis research. There is a dearth of knowledge on the effects of cannabis use, and as lead author Kanako Hayashi noted, this study is a warning flag that not all of them are good. This news hit outlets from UK to India to right here in Washington.
Petting therapy dogs enhances thinking skills of stressed students
Consumer Affairs, Dogster, Drugs.com, IFLScience
Two years ago a study by human development researcher Patricia Pendry showing that petting cats and dogs lowers the human stress hormone cortisol was the top story of the year — and continues to get pick up in the news. So, it’s no surprise that this follow up study showing petting pooches also improves thinking skills gained a lot of attention as well.
Research offers insights on how night shift work increases cancer risk
Consumer Affairs, Forbes, Helio, Hindustan Times, Yahoo News
The demands of work is always of interest to readers because it has a direct impact on their lives, but the pandemic has heightened that interest as it has added enormous stress to work, especially for some shift-workers like those in healthcare. This study led in part by WSU health science researchers about the potential dangerous cost of defying the body’s natural clock for the sake of work made news all over the world — online and in broadcast media where it appeared on more than 90 radio and TV outlets.
Cannabis use can cause harmful drug interactions
Business Fast, Spokesman‑Review, Consumer Healthday
Another warning flag on the cannabis use caught readers attention especially as pharmaceutical scientist Philip Lazarus found that cannabis use has the potential to interfere with common medications. One story by Consumer Healthday was picked up by more than 180 newspapers across the U.S.
Concurrent heatwaves seven times more frequent than 1980s
Washington Post, Buffalo News, St. Louis Today, Yahoo News
Climate change has become a renewed focus in the media as some of its real effects are being felt — including the unprecedented heatwave in the Pacific Northwest last summer. This study led by climate scientists Cassandra Rogers and Deepti Singh uses observational data to show large heatwaves are happening on Earth at the same time, posing additional threats. It was picked up by not only national news outlets but more than 230 local outlets across the country.
- Pulse oximeters more useful in COVID screening for older adults
- WSU scientists identify contents of ancient Maya drug containers
- Study finds no gender discrimination when leaders use confident language
- WSU to lead $125 million USAID project to detect emerging viruses
- Ethiopian monuments 1,000 years older than previously thought
- Prehistoric Pacific Coast diets had salmon limits
- New biomarkers could predict rheumatoid arthritis
- Pandemic has increased pregnancy stress for U.S. women
- Lab-made hexagonal diamonds stiffer than natural diamonds
- Science backs nature as key to children’s health
- Study finds foster youth lack critical financial skills
- Goldenseal use may compromise diabetics’ glucose control
- Cannabis use both helps and hurts entrepreneurial creativity
- Research identifies potential role of ‘junk DNA’ sequence in aging, cancer
- Doctor communication key to pandemic vaccine adoption
- Increased take‑home methadone during pandemic did not worsen outcomes
- Young adults’ alcohol use increases when casually dating
- Novel study of high-potency cannabis shows memory effects
- New Monarch butterfly breeding pattern inspires hope
- Blind trust in social media cements conspiracy beliefs
- Researchers find how tiny plastics slip through the environment
- Stress during pandemic linked to poor sleep
- Bee impersonating flies show pollinator potential
- Untrained beer drinkers can taste different barley genotypes
- Seeds of economic health disparities found in subsistence society
- Individualistic COVID‑19 vaccine messages had best effect in U.S. study
- Populous regions bear brunt of increasing humid‑heat
- Clinical trial shows alcohol use disorder recovery can start without sobriety
- Social tensions preceded disruptions in Pueblo societies
- Sleep loss does not impact ability to assess emotional information
- Expressing variety of emotions earns entrepreneurs funding
- Women of color, rural women most impacted by missed breast cancer screening during pandemic
- Consumers will pay more for ready‑to‑eat meals made with fewer ingredients
- Biomarkers in fathers’ sperm linked to offspring autism
- Soft X‑ray method promises nanocarrier breakthroughs for smart medicine
- Greenhouse gas emissions from water reservoirs higher than previously expected
- Toxin-adapted fish pass down epigenetic mutations to freshwater offspring
- Outside factors may help children develop internal control
- Gen Z willing to rent clothes to reduce waste
- Big name corporations more likely to commit fraud
- Fungus fights mites that harm honey bees
- More bullying of LGBTQ+ students in politically conservative districts
- Budtenders, healthcare providers seek more training as cannabis use rises
- Workplace pandemic protocols impact employee behavior outside work
- Catalyst advance improves natural gas cleaning technology
- Measuring electric current in soil could provide answers on soil health
- Gallic acid and stretching decrease osteoarthritis markers in cartilage cells
- Big gaps in quest to sequence genomes of all animals
- Shadowloss: Young adults cope with missing out during pandemic
- Low-income parents receiving universal payments spent more on kids
- Target protein identified for improving heart attack treatment
- Plastic waste has some economic benefit for developing countries
- Congestion pricing could shrink car size
- Stopping the sickness: Protein may be key to blocking a nauseating bacterium
- Oktoberfest memories increase life-satisfaction, customer loyalty
- Open source tool can help identify gerrymandering in voting maps
- Many new college students report pet separation anxiety
- Atom laser creates reflective patterns similar to light
- New treatment for baking with raspberries
- Test determines antibiotic resistance in less than 90 minutes
- Researchers advance 3D printing to aid tissue replacement
- New 3D‑printed sensor can detect glyphosate in beverages
- Systems approach assesses public health impacts of …
- Inflammation-fighting protein could improve treatment of rheumatoid arthritis
- Layoffs pushed hospitality workers to leave industry
- Drug-resistant germ packs a punch for U.S. travelers
- Hatchery conditions linked to lower steelhead trout survival
- Preserving employee morale during cost-cutting
- Food safety crises at smaller restaurant chains can hurt giants
- Study shows pest attack-order changes plant defenses
- New insight into photosynthesis could help grow more resilient plants
- Rapid evolution may help species adapt to climate change and competition
- Incentives can reduce alcohol use among American Indian and Alaska Native people
- Real-time stress detection devices could help fight alcohol relapses
- Touch as a form of care
- Wildfire changes songbird plumage and testosterone