Top research coverage of 2023

Whisky being poured into a glass with ice on a wooden table. Two other glasses are in the background.
Photo by igorr1 on iStock

Whisky, contraception, cannabis: many of the Washington State University studies that garnered the most attention from news media in 2023 seemed to involve human pleasures — and their consequences. That focus may say something about the global mood in the first post-pandemic year, but it also speaks to the real-world impact of WSU’s research enterprise.

Many other WSU studies that did well in the media looked to the future but still with a practical eye: such as a study about removing moon dust from space suits and another about using gene-editing to provide protein for the world’s growing population. Factors influencing our elections also captured wide interest.

These trends emerged from an analysis of the 79 scientific research press releases from 2023. WSU News staff used Meltwater media tracking software to calculate each story’s “potential reach.” This figure, which combines estimated audience of all media outlets where the story appeared, provides a rough estimate of how many times a story could have been seen rather than the number of actual people who saw it.

Below are the 10 leading stories from 2023 with potential reach numbers, examples of high-impact media articles, and potential explanations for their success. Following that is the full list of research releases from last year ranked by total potential reach.


  1. Too much water can make whiskies taste the same

    2.0 billion

    Food & Wine Magazine, The Independent, KOMO-TV, MSN, The Scotsman

    WSU enology researcher Tom Collins used science to help answer a question much debated among whisky afficionados: is whisky better on the rocks or neat? The study showed that water changed different whiskies’ aroma — and the media loved it. The story appeared in more than 450 outlets with notable pickup in the whisky-loving regions of the U.S., Ireland, and Scotland.


  1. New genetic target for male contraception identified

    1.01 billion

    Daily Express, The Guardian, IFL Science, ProKerala, The Sun

    Despite other attempts underway to develop male contraception, this genetic discovery, led by WSU reproductive biologist Jon Oatley, appears so promising that reporters all over the world carried the good news. One story, originally written by the Daily Express, was syndicated across 133 outlets in multiple countries from newspapers in Europe to local TV stations in Louisiana and Pennsylvania.


  1. Liquid nitrogen spray could clean up stubborn moon dust

    965.19 million

    Axios, BBC, CNET, Space.com, Smithsonian

    This story did well on its own, then later got a boost from the summer blockbuster movie “Barbie.” As part of their work, a team led by WSU mechanical engineering graduate student Ian Wells, tried out a liquid nitrogen spray to remove moon dust from a Barbie doll in a space suit. That innovative use of the doll caught the eye of many reporters including one BBC writer who quipped: “Barbie can do it all.”


  1. Faster postal service linked to better voter turnout

    851.84 million

    KBOI/KLEW, OPB, Study Finds, Yahoo News

    All the false claims in 2020 about mail-in voter fraud in the U.S. likely spurred interest in this connection between the post office speed and voter turnout found by WSU political scientist Michael Ritter. The story hit many U.S. online, print and broadcast outlets. Yahoo News carried the story multiple times, reprinting stories across its worldwide outlets including in Canada, Malaysia, Singapore, and the U.K.


  1. Sharp rise in severe, alcohol-related liver injury during pandemic

    699.93 million

    Gizmodo, Good Men Project, New York Post Spokesman Review

    At the time of this press release, the rise in liquor sales during the pandemic had already been well publicized — the consequences of that increase much less so. This study led by WSU liver researcher Kris Kowdley helped provide an important warning which many media outlets carried across the U.S.


  1. First university to put gene-edited livestock into human food supply

    506.64 million

    Daily Mail, Futurism,  KOIN-TV, OPB, Scripps-TV, Spokesman Review

    This story brought science to the plate, and the media ate it up. After taking two years to secure FDA approval to put gene-edited pigs from the surrogate sires research in the food supply, WSU researcher Jon Oatley held a cookout to try some of the “CRISPR sausage.” Taking this first step, Oatley hoped to dispel myths around gene-editing, so this technology can move out of the lab and improve protein sources around the world.


  1. Bees evolved from ancient supercontinent, diversified faster than suspected

    474.31 million

    MSNNPRPopular MechanicsPopular ScienceScribd

    Despite the occasional sting, bees are probably one of the most helpful to humans providing crop pollinating services and honey. Given that sweet deal, it isn’t surprising that a new discovery in the bee-origin story, led in part by WSU entomologist Silas Bossert, captured the human imagination. The story branched out from archeological curiosity to reach more than 200 mainstream outlets.


  1. Finger-prick test developed for ‘trich’ a common, undiagnosed STI

    449.79 million

    Daily Mail, NWPBKHQ, Scribd, Study Finds

    The surprise of an unknown but common problem of this undiagnosed sexually transmitted infection, is usually enough to grab attention, but this study, in typical WSU fashion, also provided a solution. Molecular biosciences Professor John Alderete led the effort to develop a quick test for this STI, called ‘trich’ that once found is easily cured. This bad news/good news story reached more than 160 outlets around the world.


  1. Urban light pollution linked to smaller eyes in birds

    427.72 million

    BBCEarth.comForbesScribdYahoo News

    The unexpected insight that human activities may be changing the very eyes of common birds gave this story wings. This study, led by WSU wildlife ecologist Jennifer Phillips, also has implications for migrating birds whose eyes are not evolving to city lights as well as the more familiar painted buntings and northern cardinals often seen at backyard bird feeders across the country.


  1. Cannabis users appear to be relying less on conventional sleep aids

    420.75 million

    Benzinga, Forbes, KOIN-TV, High Times, New Atlas

    The curiosity about cannabis remains strong since so little is known about the popular drug as this story proves again. This study, from a team led by WSU psychology researcher Carrie Cuttler, found an interesting practice among current cannabis users that may hold a potential benefit for better sleep. That news woke up media outlets across the country.


Email WSU Science Writer Sara Zaske at sara.zaske@wsu.edu with your abstract or draft manuscript on an upcoming study that appeals to a broad, general audience. While not all research can be promoted with press releases, studies with novel or surprising findings that have a potential impact to regular readers tend to do well in the media.

For the university to consider issuing a press release, a WSU researcher should be the corresponding author on a peer-reviewed study. The best time to contact us is when the study is first accepted by a journal, but potentially, the university can issue a release within 90 days of the publish date.

  1. Cannabis exposures in suspected suicide attempts are on the rise
  2. Fake news on Facebook increased 2020 election doubts
  3. Abortion facility access means long drives for 41.8% of women
  4. Small differences in mom’s behavior may show up in child’s epigenome
  5. New way to rearrange store products could boost impulse buying
  6. CBD shows promise for reducing cigarette smoking
  7. Few people seem to find real joy in JOMO
  8. Baby kangaroo fecal microbes could reduce methane from cows
  9. Novel air filter captures wide variety of pollutants
  10. Plants can distinguish when touch starts and stops
  11. Positive messages can mitigate harm from objectified fitness posts
  12. Parasite common in cats causes abortion in bighorn sheep
  13. Youth cannabis vaping highest in medical marijuana states
  14. Dry lightning can spark wildfires even under wetter conditions
  15. Japanese beetles could spread across Washington in 20 years
  16. E-health reduces patient pain, opioids in clinical study
  17. Catalyst can control methane emissions in natural gas engines
  18. Researchers develop carbon-negative concrete
  19. Researchers build bee robot that can twist
  20. Study indicates likely cause of common birth defect
  21. New test chamber created to find better ways to keep people cool
  22. Elk hoof disease likely causes systemic changes
  23. Pacific Northwest snowpack endangered by increasing heatwaves
  24. Genetic test can detect deadly bleeding disorder in dogs
  25. New ‘semi-sub’ shows spy potential of sailing at waterline
  26. Viral TikTok health videos tend to cover three topics, rely on influencers
  27. Lesser-known brain cells may be key to staying awake without cost to cognition, health
  28. Glacier National Park could be climate haven for Canada lynx
  29. Ticks prove resilient to extreme temperatures
  30. Font size can ‘nudge’ customers toward healthier food choices
  31. Indoor ‘queen banking’ could help beekeepers deal with changing climate
  32. Pandemic pushed half-million kids into grandparents’ homes
  33. Machine can quickly produce needed cells for cancer treatment
  34. Low-impact human recreation changes wildlife behavior
  35. Bear genes show circadian rhythms even during hibernation
  36. Pro-cannabis social media linked to youths’ intentions to use
  37. High winds can worsen pathogen spread at outdoor chicken farms
  38. Comparison with Canada highlights poor access to U.S. methadone treatment
  39. Inclusive gender signs connected to positive attitudes toward trans, nonbinary people
  40. Discovery made about Fischer Tropsch process could help improve fuel production
  41. Infection-resistant, 3D‑printed metals developed for implants
  42. Guilt not as persuasive if directly tied to personal responsibility
  43. Study points to cause of safety concerns in painkiller diclofenac
  44. Preschoolers show cultural differences in generosity, competitiveness
  45. New conductive, cotton-based fiber developed for smart textiles
  46. New 3D‑printing method builds structures with two metals
  47. Epigenetic signature for obesity found in study of twins
  48. Bisexuals use cannabis more frequently for coping, enhancement
  49. Test of police implicit bias training shows modest improvement in WSU-led study
  50. Kenyan hospital visits linked to increased exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria
  51. Lignin separation method could make renewable material profitable
  52. COVID-19 conspiracy theories that spread fastest focused on evil, secrecy
  53. Alcohol harm reduction can also reduce other substance use
  54. Stormwater biofiltration increases coho salmon hatchling survival
  55. Gene required for root hair growth, nitrate foraging found in grasses
  56. Asian clams’ spread in Columbia River warns of worse invaders
  57. Science-focused messaging could help reduce cannabis use during pregnancy
  58. Sports media use linked to belief in rape myths
  59. Gossip influences who gets ahead in different cultures
  60. Consumers care more about taste than gene editing for table grapes
  61. Nurse aide turnover linked to scheduling decisions
  62. Gender gap found in research grant award amounts, re‑applications
  63. Discovery could hold the key to healthy aging during global warming
  64. Exposure to soft robots decreases human fears about working with them
  65. Screen-printing method can make wearable electronics less expensive
  66. WIC participation helped families better cope with 2022 infant formula shortage
  67. Fear can inspire remote workers to protect IT resources
  68. Common heartworm preventive, other antiparasitics can be deadly for some catsNew study suggests Mayas utilized market-based economics
  69. New study suggests Mayas utilized market-based economics
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