Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Neutron star collision detected and other top science stories of 2017

When I posted Gravity waves and other top science stories of 2016, I had no idea that the discoverers of gravity waves would win the Nobel Prize for physics this year, but they did.  Gravity waves are still the number one science story of the year, at least according to the AAAS and Science Magazine, as they named them Breakthrough of the Year, 2017.

Check out what Science's editors deemed the top results of 2017, including our Breakthrough of the Year!
That discovery topped most of the other lists I examined from what I considered reputable sources.  The other stories that Science Magazine placed in this year's top ten that showed up elsewhere were CRISPR and its role in gene therapy, the discovery of the oldest Homo sapiens fossils in Morrocco, and a new endangered species of orangutan.  Stories that Science Magazine did not mention that made many other sources' top science story lists included the Great American Eclipse and the end of the Cassini mission, perhaps because they were not breakthroughs or discoveries, even if both were big news.

Follow over the jump for videos from New Scientist, Curiosity Stream, Science News, and Scientific American on their top science stories of 2017.

New Scientist presented its own top 12 items, including the oldest H. sapiens, the new orangutan species, CRISPR, and Cassini, in The best science and tech stories of the year.

The U.K. science magazine ignored the neutron star collision, but included some interesting items instead, such as the first exomoon and the two examples of Russian technological warfare, interfering with GPS and using Facebook to influence elections.

CuriosityStream did as much showing as telling in its Top Science Stories of 2017, including the neutron star collision, the eclipse, Cassini, and oldest H. sapiens in its list.

Science had quite a year. From a solar eclipse that captured North America to the discovery of a possible eighth continent to a brand new dinosaur fossil - and everything in between - look back on the moments that made us say "WOW."
CuriosityStream has risen from nowhere to being what I consider to be a reputable source in very little time.  I never mentioned it on this blog before I posted Nature documentary nominees are well photographed at the 2017 News and Documentary Emmy Awards and 'Sonic Sea,' a triple nominee, and its competitors this past October, but the streaming service received two nominations for original science and nature programming and one award at the News and Documentary Emmy Awards, so I think it's earned its place.

One discovery that appeared on CuriosityStream's list that they didn't elaborate on, using muons to find a hidden chamber in the Great Pyramid of Giza, gets a mention in Science News' Reflections on the science news stories of 2017 as does the top story, gravity waves, along with the eclipse and the demise of Cassini.

As 2017 comes to a close, we asked the Science News staff to reflect on the highlights of the past year.
I'm glad to see March for Science made their list, even if it didn't make anyone elses.

Scientific American took a different tack in Looking Back at the Year in Science.  Instead of listing top stories based on the expert opinions of the writers and editors, it picked them based on reader engagement.  The result was interesting, as it showed the intersection between science and politics, which annoyed a lot of the commenters.  On the other hand, CRISPR and the eclipse both made the top five in this video.

Our editors recap some of the science stories most popular with our readers in 2017.
Scientific American may have neglected the neutron star collision in the video, but it did mention it in The Top 10 Science Stories of 2017 on the magazine's website, cementing it as the top science story of the year.  It also mentioned Trump pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord as a top story, which New Scientist also did.

That's it for the year in science.  Stay tuned for posts on speculative fiction at the SAG Awards, the top political documentaries of 2017, an economic forecast for next year, and a farewell to 2017 on social media.  Stay tuned.


  1. The fact that gene editing has reached the point of actually being used with humans will probably turn out to be the most consequential on these, in the long run. Of course (like many of these) that's actually technology rather than science, but it's common these days to conflate the two.

    I'm always a little dubious about anti-aging breakthroughs involving research on mice. Humans live so much longer than mice anyway, I wonder if we're just re-discovering improvements that evolution has already made in our own species.

    I doubt the eclipse would have made the list if it weren't for the fact that it attracted so much public interest, and I'm not sure most of the public even viewed it as a science-related event, although things like that are always teachable moments.

    1. The conflation of science and technology is a topic I bring up every semester in nearly all of my classes. I point out that, contrary to popular perception, technology, medicine, and engineering are not science, although all of them are science-based. I also admit my contribution to this confusion during my time as a writer for My most read stories were about medicine and technology, not pure science, so I was rewarded for writing about them.

      That's an interesting point about mice and humans. We may already have those mutations in us.

      Notice that the eclipse didn't show up in Science Magazine, which was about scientific value, not popular interest, or New Scientist, which is based in the U.K. The eclipse wasn't visible there.

  2. technology, medicine, and engineering are not science

    I like this posting which makes a similar point, about the stereotypical movie "mad scientist". Of course medical research is science; applied medicine (treatments) is biological engineering/repairs, even if people don't like to think of it that way.

    The withdrawal from the Paris accord is "science news" in another sense, I suppose -- news of the authorities' attitude about science. As, say, the arrest of Galileo would have been science news if we'd had these lists back then.

    Anyway, I'm glad Cassini made the list. A triumph of science and technology.

    1. You're right about most, in fact nearly all, mad scientists. They are using technology or medicine to gain power, money, or fame, not advance knowledge. All of the "mad scientists" in comic books and James Bond films qualify. The exceptions are the mad scientists from very early in science fiction and horror. Victor Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll were testing out hypotheses and had their experiments succeed in horrifying ways. Since "Frankenstein" is the strongest candidate for the first science fiction story, that means that the archetype is tied up with the genre, even if it is not common today.