The (Ultimate) Top Ten Science Stories of 2015
As 2015 draws to a close, those who cover science look forward with anticipation to an exciting year ahead, but they also look back at the noteworthy year that was. 2015 yielded a great many discoveries, insights, and captivating stories. (It also yielded some fascinating BS.) To recall and rank the most important of these is a challenge. This year, instead of crafting our own list, we decided to try something a little different. Since aggregation is what we do, we decided to combine lists from other outlets into an "ultimate list" -- one list to rule them... you get the idea.
We scoured the Internet for "top science stories" lists, selecting only those from sources deemed reputable. Points were awarded to each story based on its ranking. For example, on a typical top ten list the #1 story earned ten points, #2 earned nine, #3 earned eight, and so on. Lists that had fewer than ten rankings were normalized to a 10-point scale. For the lists that did not rank the stories, each story earned 5.5 points, which is the average score if you add together all the digits from 1 to 10 and divide by ten.
The List (as of 12/20):
1. New Horizons Reaches Pluto (61.5 points)
Pluto commanded the podium this year, as NASA's New Horizons spacecraft brought the diminutive dwarf planet into focus for the first time in human history. Among the things we learned, Pluto may still be geologically active, and it has a heart.
2. Gene Editing Takes Center Stage (48.5 points)
Thanks to a revolutionary technique called CRISPR, which was actually developed three years ago, gene editing was a major topic of discussion in 2015. CRISPR may allow scientists to effectively edit genetic diseases out of humanity. It could also potentially be used to engineer humans, themselves.
3. A New Species of Human: Homo naledi (47.5 points)
In September, scientists announced that they had discovered 1,500 fossil specimens belonging to at least fifteen individuals of a new species of human: Homo naledi. The remains were found in the Rising Star Cave System in South Africa.
4. Quantum Entanglement Confirmed (26 points)
5. A Climate Change Deal Is Struck (18 points)
Though just a little over a week old, most outlets agreed that the climate change deal struck in Paris was a monumental achievement. Nearly 200 nations agreed to limit their carbon emissions in order to prevent significant global warming later this century.
6. Salty Water Spotted on Mars (14 points)
In late September, NASA announced that the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter had spotted signs of salty brines flowing on the Martian surface. Though it wasn't the first time that liquid has been spotted on Mars, the finding is the most detailed and conclusive to date. It was also curiously timed to coincide with the release of The Martian, a science fiction movie starring Matt Damon.
7. Science's Lack of Replication (13 points)
Science has long been nagged for its surprising lack of reproducibility, but this year, a number of reports showcased the scale of the problem. The biggest eye opener: up to $28 billion is spent annually in the life sciences on research that can't be reproduced.
8. Processed Meat and Red Meat Linked to Cancer (11 points)
After reviewing hundreds of studies, the World Health Organization classified processed meats as "carcinogenic" and red meat as "probably carcinogenic." But don't worry, eating red or processed meats almost certainly won't kill you.
9. A Massive Earthquake in Nepal (9.5 points)
On April 25th, a violent earthquake rattled Nepal. All told, over 9,000 were killed and 23,000 were injured in the catastrophe.
10. ISIS Wages War on Archaeology (8 points)
This year, the Islamic terrorist group ISIS killed a number of archaeologists and destroyed dozens of ancient sites throughout the Middle East, most notably the ruins of Palmyra. According to National Geographic, ISIS uses the "destruction of cultural heritage to demonstrate their 'piety' and stoke division within local populations." They also view "the practice of archaeology as a foreign import that fans Iraqi nationalism and impedes their ultimate goal."