10 of our most talked about stories of 2017

As the year draws to an end, we look back at some of the most talked about research and news to come out of the Faculty of Social Sciences in the last 12 months.

iHuman event

10. Robots help to launch iHuman

A group of robots and BBC Radio 4’s Dr Adam Rutherford helped launch iHuman, one of our newest research centres, in July.

The centre launched with a Question Time style event at the Sheffield Town Hall on the topic of ‘Who decides the future? Science, politics or the people?’.

The interdisciplinary institute, funded by the ESRC and Leverhulme Trust, aims to explore issues such as what it means to be human in a time of rapid growth where technology affects all our daily lives.

Professor Paul Martin, from the University of Sheffield and iHuman Co-Director, said at the time of the launch: "As technology radically changes how we live, we need to be asking what it really means to be human in the 21st century. I am delighted that iHuman will be leading the way in addressing this through collaborative research with academics, community groups and third sector organisations."

Arctic landscape9. Landforms the size of the Eiffel Tower discovered below Antarctica

Dr Felix Ng from the Department of Geography was part of an international team to discover a series of massive landforms hidden beneath kilometres of Antarctic ice.

The study published in Nature used satellite and radar data to image measure the ancient sediment ridges and systems of water conduits that flowed beneath Antarctica’s frozen surface.

The newly discovered sediment ridges actively shape the ice hundreds of kilometers downstream by carving deep incisions at the bottom of Antarctica’s ice. The scarred parts of the ice-shelf were found to be up to half as thin as the uncut ice and much more susceptible to melting from the warmer ocean.

Social media thumbnail8. More time online makes kids less happy

In April, researchers in the Department of Economics revealed that children who spend more time social networking online feel less happy with a number of different aspects of their lives.

Their research, presented at the Royal Economic Society’s annual conference, revealed that the more time children spend chatting on social networks such as Facebook, Snapchat, WhatsApp and Instagram, the less happy they feel about their school work, their school attended, their appearance, their family and their life overall. But they do feel happier about their friendships.

Dr Philip Powell, who worked on the project, said: “This research adds to a growing body of literature highlighting a potential negative impact of increased social media use on the wellbeing of children and young people.

Gun thumbnail7. US citizens more likely to favour gun control if they live near a mass shooting

People living near a mass shooting in the United States of America are more likely to support stricter gun controls, research from Dr Todd Hartman in the Sheffield Methods Institute published in October found.

While mass shootings in other western nations have prompted moves towards stricter gun legistlation, the US has not seen any significant changes in gun policy despite regularly seeing similar tragedies.

Dr Todd Hartman, Lecturer in Quantitative Methods, said: “Surprisingly, there has been little research investigating whether mass shootings affect individual opinion toward gun control policy. Our study suggests a clear link between those that live in an area where a mass shooting has taken place and a desire for stricter gun regulation.”

Land cover thumb6. New atlas reveals 6 per cent of UK is built on

The UK is a green and pleasant land with more than half the country classed as pasture or arable land, according to a new set of maps created by Professor Alasdair Rae.

The Land Cover Atlas of the United Kingdom shows the variety and volume of different types of land uses across the UK. It revealed that agricultural land used for animal grazing and growing crops makes up approximately 56 per cent of the country. It also shows that peat bogs (nine per cent) make up more of the UK than urban areas (six per cent).

The work was used as the basis of an interactive tool by BBC News and chosen as the Royal Statistical Society Stat of the Year 2017.

Professor Rae said: “It may feel like a very densely populated urban nation, but the reality is that the vast majority of the land area of the UK is not built on.

“However, given that 83% of the population of the UK lives in urban areas it is not surprising that some people hold the opposite to be true. However, from a land cover point of view, the United Kingdom is in fact dominated by pasture and arable land.

Doctor thumb5. Brexit’s effect on health services

Brexit poses a substantial threat to the future of the NHS was the conclusion authors of a paper published in the Lancet found in November.

Prof Tamara Hervey from the School of Law was a co-author on the paper which assessed the impact of a Hard Brexit, Soft Brexit and a failed Brexit on the national health service. It found that even a Soft Brexit with access to the Single Market could lead to difficulty recruiting nurses and doctors from the EU.

Professor Hervey said: “If we must leave the EU, I hope this analysis will help interested stakeholders and our elected representatives to hold our government to account to deliver a ‘healthy Brexit.”

The findings of the paper were widely discussed in the media and online. In December it was featured on Altmetric’s Top 100 of 2017’s most talked about research.

Blair page4. Young people more right wing than previous generations

Young people in Britain are more right-wing and authoritarian in their political views than previous generations, a study of political attitudes revealed in February.

The study, co-authored by Prof Stephen Farrall, Prof Colin Hay, Dr Maria Teresa Grasso and Dr Emily Gray in the Faculty and colleagues at the University of Southampton, found a preference among young people for right-wing policies in regard to the welfare, crime and the economy.

Professor Stephen Farrall of the School of Law, speaking to The Independent about the paper’s findings, said: “Our take is that the younger generations have become increasingly socially and economically liberal. They’re much less concerned about religious beliefs or whether you’re gay, lesbian or straight, which people were previously more concerned about. They are much more accepting of diversity, but they are also much more accepting of economic inequality.

Bread page3. The environmental cost of bread revealed

In a groundbreaking study researchers from the University, including Professor Lenny Koh and Dr Liam Goucher from the Management School, calculated the environmental impact of a loaf of bread and which part of its production contributes the most greenhouse gas.

While many think of other environmental impacts of food, such as plastic packaging, the study highlighted other impacts that are often overlooked or not considered by consumers.

The findings, published in the journal Nature Plants, show ammonium nitrate fertiliser used in wheat cultivation contributes almost half (43 per cent) of the greenhouse gas emissions and dwarfed all other processes in the supply chain.

Hen Power thumb2. Hen party helps curb loneliness in older people with dementia

The Festival of Social Sciences returned in November with a line up of debates, screenings, art exhibitions and a flock of hens!

A special ‘hen party’ brought together older people living with dementia and feathered friends in a bid to combat loneliness, improve wellbeing and boost creativity.

The event was the brainchild of researchers from the Care Connect research centre in the Department of Sociological Studies and charities Age UK and Equal Arts.

Dr Andrea Wigfield, Director of Care Connect at the University of Sheffield said: “Today’s event was a perfect example of how simple and easy it is to help curb loneliness in older people and those living with dementia.

“One of the most important issues societies face today is loneliness. This event was not only a positive day for all involved but will also help us examine loneliness in greater detail.”

1. Faculty ranked in Times Higher Education Top 100 internationally for research and teaching

In October, we were delighted to hear that the Faculty came 63rd internationally and 12th in the UK in the Times Higher Education World University rankings 2018 for social sciences, a rise from last year’s position of 71st place globally. It was also ranked 56th for law and 49th for education in the subject ranking.

Professor Craig Watkins, Vice-President for Social Sciences at the University of Sheffield, said: "We are thrilled that the University of Sheffield has been recognised for being a world-leading institution for teaching and research in social sciences.

“The University’s Faculty of Social Science has a longstanding reputation for delivering innovative teaching and conducting groundbreaking research. Social sciences research plays an important role in addressing the major challenges facing society and our ideas are leading academic debates internationally and shaping policy and practice across the globe."