2012 in review: These PRI.org stories captured your interest most

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While trying to restore a 19th-century painting (left), an elderly woman in Spain says she unintentionally defaced it (right). (Photos via BBC.)

The re-election of President Barack Obama — and the seemingly endless campaign that led up to it — was perhaps the dominant story of 2012 in the United States.

But here at PRI.org, you turned to us for stories of decidedly more bi-partisan — or at least more natural — sort. Yes, among the 10 most-read stories of 2012, three of them had something to do with our natural world — from sharks to beetles.

And despite the stories posted this year, a couple of old favorites hung around in your minds long enough to make the 2012 most-read list.

No. 10: Polygamy in America

This story, from February 2010, nearly topped the charts last year, coming in second for overall traffic. This year, traffic declined by roughly 50 percent, but the story from Here & Now still generated enough pageviews to take the tenth spot among most-read articles on PRI.org. All told, about 15,000 people read this tory last year, bringing its three-year total to nearly 60,000, proving that polygamy is still a subject of wide interest to Americans.

No. 9: Scientist takes inspiration from natural world to create self-filling water bottle

Living on Earth in November told the story of an entrepreneur, who's turning to the air to find clean drinking water. Based on the mechanism used by a particular species of desert beetle, he's created a water bottle that fills itself from the moisture contained in the air. The story was popular on Reddit, but also got distributed via The Discovery Channel's discovery.com portal, as well as Astounde.com, SlashDot and, of course, Facebook.

No. 8: Bond movie Skyfall's deserted island a real place -- in Japan

The latest installment of the James Bond series, Skyfall, was a smash box office hit — and this story about the weird villain's lair was a smash hit for PRI.org. Generating nearly 20,000 pageviews almost overnight, this PRI's The World story took the audience to the real-world island of Hashima, long since deserted and turned into a pivotal location for Skyfall. Reddit, again, and Google proved to be the primary drivers of traffic to the story.

No. 7: Super Bowl 2012 halftime show presents Madonna opportunity to reconnect

Tens of millions of Americans tune into the Super Bowl every year and this year, Madonna was the half-time entertainment. Here & Now did a story about Madonna using the massive platform to reconnect with a broad audience — and the story generated nearly 27,000 pageviews for PRI.org. Most of those pageviews came from Google and people searching to find out who would be performing the half-time entertainment.

No. 6: Sweden imports waste from European neighbors to fuel waste-to-energy program

Here at PRI.org, we describe a lot of your favorite stories, broadly, as "weird science." This particular story loosely fits that category. Living on Earth profiled a waste-to-energy incinerator in Sweden that's burning so much waste it can't find enough fuel within its own borders. So it's turned to continental Europe and has actually taken to importing garbage to burn. How's that for trash to treasure? The story generated nearly 33,00 pageviews in several spikes throughout the year. It generated 2700 likes on Facebook and nearly 1000 mentions on Facebook. Other major sources of traffic included Reddit, YCombinator and the Mother Nature Network.

No. 5: Scientists turn to natural world for clues of shifting seasons

In this year of super storms, stories about climate and climate change were especially pertinent, and popular. PRI's The World told the story of Dutch scientists who are using natural-world observations to show how climates are changing. Last spring came early — which presented a good opportunity for researchers at Wageningen University to show how the climate in that country has become more like that of southern France over the last 10 years. Nearly 40,000 people read this story, most of them coming to the story from Reddit.

No. 4: Researcher looks for new ways to repel sharks

Another installment of weird science, this story from PRI's The World revealed work that has been done to create a fish hook that repels sharks. Some sharks are endangered and so fishermen are often keen to keep them away. This new fish hook is made of a metal that literally encourages sharks to swim in the opposite direction. More than 40,000 people read this story — again with Reddit as a major source of those visits.

No. 3: Amateur restoration botches Jesus painting in Spain

This was a particularly odd story, again from PRI's The World. A well-meaning parishioner at the Sanctuary of Mercy Catholic Church in Spain took an historic painting home to restore it. But rather than restore it, or in the process of restoring it, she damaged the painting practically to the point of unrecognition. The story generated widespread publicity, which led to a number of people searching for more information. A number of those searches led to this story, generating nearly 70,000 pageviews. Other major sources of traffic, in addition to Google, were Facebook as well as Bing and Yahoo search engines.

No. 2: Syrian activists operate secret hospitals to treat wounded dissidents

Late in 2011, PRI's The World and PBS Frontline partnered on a story from deep inside Syria, where activists have been battling for independence from the oppressive regime of Bashar al-Assad. Today, it seems quaint to think about secret hospital catering to rebel wounded. But at that time, 15 months ago, it was a very big deal. The story was the seventh-most popular in 2011 and rose all the way to No. 2, with 81,000 pageviews in 2012. Combined, nearly 100,000 people have read and heard this important story at PRI.org.

No. 1: 'Cash Mobs' profit locally owned stores

The run-away top story of 2012 was this piece about a phenomenon known as Cash Mobs, where a group of people show up together at a local business and spend money. It's a take-off from the flash mobs that have grown popular in this connected age. From Here & Now, the story rocketed to the front-page of Reddit driving nearly 150,000 pageviews to the story. The other major source of traffic for this story was Facebook. Some 4300 people liked and shared it there, driving tens of thousand of pageviews. Another 1000 people mentioned this story on Twitter and almost 200 even shared it on Google+. 

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