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Top 10 Science Stories of the Year

Towards the end of every year science magazines publish a list of the top ten news stories of that year. I often look at these and wonder what criteria went into selecting such a list, and whether it is possible to formulate fairly objective criteria. A look at blogs reveals that I'm not alone in wondering about such things. There is keen interest in this question.

The laws of Bazaloides

Arhopala Bazaloides framed three criteria for selecting the top science stories of the year and checked how published lists fare. Here I reproduce the laws verbatim.

The First Law
The story must be about a discovery: not just an outstanding disaster like the Deepwater Horizon debacle. Science policy, science funding, ethics in science are news, sometimes important news, but not discovery. Such news stories should not be part of these lists.
The Second Law
The observation must be correct, or, at the very least, not be challenged before the end of the year. Stories about the demise of earlier lists should be made part of such lists, otherwise tales of dead science keep making the rounds of secondary and tertiary sources like the Wikipedia.
The Third Law
Any story about a new verification of an already long-verified theory should not make it to such a list on the basis of the test alone. Such a test would only make the cut if it could be seen as the beginning of a new field, for example, by solving a deep technical challenge. By extension, the discovery of an expected phenomenon cannot be a big story. To take this further, incremental advances in long on-going projects will find it hard to get on to the list.

If you put these criteria to work on the news available for a year you might not get 10 items. That's okay: you want to know the most exciting science done in a given year. Whether or not there were 10 exciting works is of lesser consequence.


A microbe that lives on arsenic
Exoplanet atmosphere laid bare
Quantum effects seen in a visible object
Ancient kissing cousins were found
Family Genomics: linking DNA to disease
The Map of Everything
[Discover] The Planck satellite observed the whole sky in a range of wavelengths, from the far infrared to microwave frequencies. The mission has put together a map of all this data, very easily viewed in a site called The Chromoscope.
The world's first cyberweapon
[NYTimes] The malware was so skillfully designed that computer security specialists who have examined it were almost certain it had been created by a government and is a prime example of clandestine digital warfare. While there have been suspicions of other government uses of computer worms and viruses, Stuxnet is the first to go after industrial systems. But unlike those other attacks, this bit of malware did not stay invisible. If Stuxnet is the latest example of what a government organization can do, it contains some glaring shortcomings. The program was splattered on thousands of computer systems around the world, and much of its impact has been on those systems, rather than on what appears to have been its intended target, Iranian equipment. Computer security specialists are also puzzled by why it was created to spread so widely.
Early diagnosis for Alzheimer's
[Discover] Part of what makes Alzheimer's disease so pernicious is its stealth. Traditionally, it could be identified with certainty only by an autopsy. That changed last year, when researchers used two tools to diagnose the disease with nearly 100 percent accuracy in living subjects, a feat that might ultimately allow patients to seek drug treatment before their condition becomes too advanced.

Copyright: Sourendu Gupta ; Last modified on 17 Jan, 2019.