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PUBLIC RELEASE DATE: 1-DEC 2003

EurekAlert! names most popular 2003 science stories--Ozone, memory treatments and technology top the list

Click here to view a list of EurekAlert!'s most popular science stories of 2003.

A rare piece of good news about the Earth's beleaguered ozone layer has so far attracted more readers than any other story posted in 2003 to EurekAlert!, the popular science news Web site for reporters and the public (www.eurekalert.org).

Memory treatments and other health news; language-translation technology; and Chinese language instruction for American infants were among the other stories most frequently visited on EurekAlert!, a free service of AAAS, the science society (www.aaas.org).

"For me, our top 10 list proves that a free press demands plenty of story choices, and variety is a good thing in the news business, so long as it's solid, and not fluff," said Senior Program Associate Catherine O'Malley, who heads EurekAlert! for AAAS.

"Our best-selling stories in 2003 mostly reflect the wide range of topics and news sources available on our site," O'Malley said. "But, beyond that, many of the top stories offer a slightly unexpected twist on a familiar tale - the 'man-bites-dog' angle that makes news. The top stories also tend to be peer-reviewed or otherwise validated in some way before being posted to EurekAlert!, and many of them attract traffic from other Web sites, which hyper-link directly to them."

The EurekAlert! top 10 list includes environmental and medical news, and stories posted by public information officers working in the United States and Europe.

For example, the most heavily trafficked story on EurekAlert! this year, posted 29 July by Harvey Leifert of the American Geophysical Union, reported unexpectedly positive news about the ozone layer, based on a study that had been accepted for publication in the Journal of Geophysical Research. "The rate at which ozone is being destroyed in the upper stratosphere is slowing, and levels of ozone-destroying chorine in that upper layer of the atmosphere have peaked and are going down," following a worldwide ban on chlorofluorocarbon release, Leifert's news release reported. The story, based on research by Michael Newchurch of the University of Alabama at Huntsville, had drawn 40,584 readers via EurekAlert! by mid-November.

The second most frequently visited story on EurekAlert! this year, accessed 23,532 times, was a corporate news release reporting clinical findings presented for the first time at the American Academy of Neurology's Annual Meeting. The release, posted 4 April, reports that donepezil HCI tablets (ARICEPT®), approved for treatment of Alzheimer's disease, also help people with mild cognitive impairment or Parkinson's-related dementia. "The news release offers a great deal of very specific, frank detail about the clinical studies, and that's important, because reporters want to be able to evaluate the methodology and the findings for themselves," O'Malley said.

To help reporters further assess news releases posted to EurekAlert!, the site uses graphic icons to clearly show any funding sources associated with the different stories, O'Malley noted. The memory-treatment news release, for instance, was posted by the public relations firm MS&L on behalf of two pharmaceutical companies, Eisai Inc. and Pfizer Inc.

Some 4,500 eligible reporters are now registered to go "behind the wall" on EurekAlert!, meaning that they have been granted a password to preview embargoed research news before it's released to the public. The reporter audience for EurekAlert! news has become increasingly international in recent years, O'Malley noted, so that 52 percent of all reporter registrants now log on from sites outside the United States.

Public traffic to EurekAlert! is increasing, too:

More than 250,000 unique visitors stop at EurekAlert! each month, and most remain an average of 12 minutes - "an excellent stick rate!" according to O'Malley. New features -- such as modules offering A-to-Z tutorials on nanotechnology and bioinformatics, plus forthcoming marine science and foreign-language portals -- target EurekAlert!'s growing public audience.

The third most frequently visited story on EurekAlert! in 2003 was posted 4 April by the Porter Novelli public relations firm, on behalf of Shire Pharmaceuticals Group plc. The story, generating 23,399 visits, describes phase-three trial data on a treatment that helps decrease levels of phosphate in end-stage renal disease patients. The research was posted to EurekAlert! to coincide with a presentation at the National Kidney Foundation's Annual Meeting.

Number four on the EurekAlert! list was a story based on research published in the peer-reviewed journal Climatic Change, which measured the amount of prehistoric plant material required to produce the gasoline burned by cars and other vehicles. This story, posted by the University of Utah on 26 October, drew 18,679 visits.

The fifth most popular story on the list describes a possible new treatment for genetic diseases. Based on research forthcoming in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science and posted 14 March by Tony Stephenson of the U.K.'s Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, the story drew 17,313 visits.

Other stories on the EurekAlert! top 10 list were:

  • Romancing the Rosetta Stone -Describes foreign-language translation technology, which was ranked the best of its type by the U.S. National Institute on Standards and Technology (Posted by the University of Southern California on 25 July, received 16,428 visits)

  • 'Spintronics' could enable a new generation of electronic devices, physicists say - Reports on new "spintronics" research, published in the peer-reviewed journal Science, which is expected to impact the future of computing (Posted by Stanford University on 8 August, received 16,220 visits)

  • Gene variation in immune system cells lowers heart disease risk - Describes how a recent study of HIV/AIDS led to unexpected insights into heart disease, which were published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Clinical Investigation (Posted by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on 15 April, received 15,274 visits)

  • FDA approves Wellbutrin XL - Reports on the approval of a new drug for the treatment of depression, a condition which impacts 14 million adults in the U.S. (Posted by Cooney Waters Group, Inc. on 29 August, received 14,437 visits)

  • Brief exposure to Mandarin can help American infants learn Chinese - Describes research presented at the AAAS Annual Meeting, which refutes traditional views about foreign-language acquisition among infants (Posted by University of Washington on 17 February, received 14,431 visits)

Breaking research news on EurekAlert! is posted by some 500 organizations. Participating organizations either subscribe on an annual basis to post an unlimited number of news releases, or pay a nominal fee to post a single story at a time. Roughly 40,000 news releases currently are archived and searchable on EurekAlert!. The site also features a fully searchable experts database for reporters only, which includes some 1,600 authorities on topics ranging from the stock market to cloning and global warming.

Eight leading peer-reviewed scientific journals maintain special embargoed news sites within the EurekAlert! web site. Each journal's home page serves as a "destination-specific, one-stop-shopping site for reporters interested in that publication's research news," O'Malley explained.

In early 2004, a new foreign-language portal will debut on EurekAlert!, thanks to support from the William T. Golden Fund for Program Innovation, and in collaboration with a new AAAS Fellowship for Reporters in Developing Countries.

To support best practices in science communications and improve its service to public information officers, EurekAlert! launched its first professional development seminar on 12 November, in cooperation with Spectrum Public Relations. The event, featuring speakers such as Nils Bruzelius of The Washington Post, drew some 200 attendees and is likely to be repeated in other venues, O'Malley said.

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Founded in 1848, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has worked to advance science for human well-being through its projects, programs, and publications, in the areas of science policy, science education and international scientific cooperation. AAAS and its journal, Science, report nearly 140,000 individual and institutional subscribers, plus 272 affiliated organizations in more than 130 countries, serving a total of 10 million individuals. Thus, AAAS is the world's largest general federation of scientists. AAAS administers EurekAlert!, the online news service featuring the latest discoveries in science and technology.