Nature 's roundup of the papers and issues gaining traction on social media.

As competition grows among researchers for ever-shrinking science budgets, articles about inequalities in funding and new ways to finance labs have recently drawn a lot of clicks and comments.

Based on data from Altmetric is supported by Macmillan Science and Education, which owns Nature Publishing Group.

Many researchers on Twitter have been sharing an article that supports their hard-won observations: science funding doesn't always go to the most deserving. The article, by sociologist Yu Xie at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, notes that science now resembles a “winner-takes-all” system that awards a disproportionate share of resources to a minority of researchers and institutions. Timothy O'Leary, a neuroscientist at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, tweeted that “inequality is OK provided the 90% can make a living”. But even that is proving difficult. “Postdocs are having permanent conversations about making the transition out of science,” he says. “They have to move up or move out.”

Xie writes that scientists are increasingly judged not by the quality of their research but by numbers: publications, citations, salary, grants and the size of their research teams. And those numbers, he argues, have become more skewed, referring to research showing that income inequality among US university faculty members has more than doubled since the early 1970s. Using Gini coefficients — a statistical measure of wealth distribution — he also documents a steady growth in disparity between leading universities and the rest of academia when it comes to funding and endowments.

Allison Stelling, outreach manager for mechanical engineering and materials science at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, observed on Twitter that the current system undervalues scientists: “We tend to see [scientists] as an “expense”, not “the heart and soul of the research”.” In her opinion, scientific funding is far too meagre and too concentrated. “We're pooling our money into what we see as safe bets,” she says. “That creates a scientific feudal system.”

Xie, Y. Science 344, 809–810 (2014)

One way to balance out funding disparities is to seek out new sources of research money, such as donations from the public. An article in PeerJ PrePrints (which is not peer reviewed) looks at how 159 scientists fared when they tried to crowdfund their research. The key to crowdfunding success was to build an audience that is engaged with the work, a task that requires excellent communication skills and some social-media savvy. “If crowdfunding is the future of science support, we'd better all read this,” tweeted Chris Elphick, an ornithologist at the University of Connecticut in Storrs.

Byrnes, J. E., Ranganathan, J., Walker, B. L. E. & Faulkes, Z. PeerJ PrePrints 2, e393v2 (2014)

When they reveal inequality, numbers can be depressing, but this paper looks at the brighter side of such information — how big data could improve health care. Harvard researchers make the case that health care should follow the lead of Google, the US National Security Agency and Barack Obama's 2012 presidential campaign. These organizations used probability statistics to link information from large data sets to individual people, revealing new behaviours and trends. The authors propose that in health care, physicians could draw on a wide range of sources — including credit-card purchases, police records and census data — to learn more about their patients and tailor their treatments. The researchers note that privacy and security are a concern, but observers generally welcomed the concept. “Finally a realistic article about #bigdata for health,” tweeted Urmimala Sarkar, a physician and researcher at San Francisco General Hospital.

Weber, G. M., Mandl, K. D. & Kohane, I. S. J. Amer. Med. Assoc. (2014)