Hello! It’s your local friendly science editor, coming up on the end of the year. Typically, I like to think back on the stories that impressed me — and consider how I can learn from what set them apart to create excellent journalism in the following year.
I asked my writers to name some of their favorite stories, and came up with a few of my own. Using this list of our favorites, I’ve created an arbitrary round-up of the stories that impressed us this year — our favorites. Because it’s my show, my rules, The New York Times and The New Yorker have been excluded. (I assume you read them already, but if you don’t, they’re well-represented on other year-end reading lists.)
Without further ado, here are some stories we loved that you might have missed:
The Chicago Tribune reports, movingly, on a study about black women who’ve survived traumatic experiences — but aren’t getting access to care for their post-traumatic stress disorder. Unfortunately, in many neighborhoods there aren’t enough mental health providers to provide the assistance that’s badly needed.
Does what it says on the tin. The Washington Post has had several massive and important scoops this year on federal science funding, but like most science writers, I retain a love for the more puerile end of things.
Vann R. Newkirk at The Atlantic has done so many excellent pieces that cover the intersection of science and politics this year that it’s hard to pick just one. But if I had to, I’d pick this one, written in the wake of Hurricane Maria’s catastrophic hit on Puerto Rico. Citizen groups are trying to make the island a better, more sustainable place to live — can they succeed?
Well before California burned this fall, High Country News was writing about the scientists who study wildfires. Here’s a terrifying fact: 1 percent of fires account for 90 percent of land burned in the Western US. It’s very difficult to predict the behavior of these fires — so some scientists are risking life and limb to find out how they work.
While vaporware is a problem in basically every area of tech, The Outline explores how promised projects for people with disabilities disappear after an initial bout of good press. The story of Toyota and the iBOT, a wheelchair that can climb stairs, is a fairly representative example of how vaporware gets people’s hopes up — and then lets them down.
There are so many flavors of apocalypse that it seems hard to pick just one — but if I wanted to put my bets on anything, I’d put them on bacteria, which will pick off survivors in basically every form of catastrophe. This STAT News piece served as a wake-up call to anyone who’s gotten complacent about MRSA and other germs. They’re coming. Are we prepared?
So there’s a lot of space trash — and Bloomberg explores what that means for the burgeoning private-space effort. More space junk means that satellites will need to be moved more often, and they’ll need to be better-shielded to survive collisions. That’s an expensive proposition.
IVF is a physically-demanding, bank-account-draining endeavor. After all that, it might not even work. So some women are trying to have babies with abnormal embryos, The Cut reports. Though the practice may seem ethically-suspect, it turns out those abnormal embryos may be able to self-correct. The practice is little-known, though it’s been ongoing since 2012.
You might not know Cornell University professor Brian Wansink, but you’re likely familiar with his work: for instance, that people pour more wine when they hold the glass rather than leave it on the table, or that naming vegetables in a more attractive way gets kids to eat more of them. Unfortunately, a lot of that work was bunk — three papers have been retracted and seven corrected, Buzzfeed reports. By running through how these papers came to be contested, this story gives us a view of the ugly problem in science: bad data.
Pain is one of the most stubborn problems in medicine — a problem composed partly of the body and partly of the brain. And it’s widespread, which is part of the reason for the opioid crisis in the US. But what if there were other ways besides painkiller pills to handle pain? This Mosaic feature explores the other routes scientists are taking to try to help people who hurt.
Goop is essentially a clearinghouse for “wellness,” which is to say, an entire industry that targets healthy people by scaring them into thinking they have to buy expensive nonsense to stay healthy. This year’s most egregious pseudoscience came from a sticker Goop marketed, saying the stickers made out of “NASA space suit material” could “rebalance the energy frequency in our bodies.” Gizmodo called NASA to see if that was accurate — and it wasn’t. As a result of the reporting, Goop pulled the product from its store.