Web edition: December 13, 2012
Print edition: December 29, 2012; Vol.182 #13 (p. 16)
Introduction: Stories worth losing sleep over
By Matt Crenson
When it came to choosing the year’s best stories, the editors of Science News applied a simple criterion: We picked the ones that kept us up at night.
The top two stories on our list literally had us working the graveyard shift. In the wee hours of July 4, we tuned in online as physicists in Geneva held a morning (their time) seminar announcing the discovery of the long-sought Higgs boson. The next month found us working in our pj’s yet again, this time as NASA’s Curiosity rover executed a spectacular touchdown on Mars in the early a.m. of August 6, Eastern time.
Then there were the stories that thwarted our sleep with their terrifying implications. In June, researchers described in two controversial papers how easily bird flu can be mutated to render it capable of airborne transmission. And if global pandemic flu wasn’t enough to keep us staring at the ceiling, we could rest assured that no rest would come from pondering a warming trend that, far from being a theoretical concern for the distant future, is a clear and present danger. Several studies this year pinned recent record heat waves and droughts on human-caused warming, and in September the Arctic Ocean’s sea ice cover reached its smallest size on record, surpassing the previous record low by almost 20 percent.
But it wasn’t just anxiety and dread that kept us tossing and turning. Other stories made the list because they filled our sleepy heads with fascinating questions: Will we ever visit the planet that has been discovered in the Alpha Centauri system, just a few light-years away? What led humans to meet and mate with Neandertals and even more exotic relatives whose DNA has ended up in the genes of people living today? It’s enough to keep you up for days.
There’s just one story here that’s not worth losing a wink of sleep over. Despite archaeological evidence to the contrary, some modern-day mystics have claimed that the ancient Maya predicted a global apocalypse on December 21, 2012. Now we can put that one to bed for sure.
Science News Top 25
Edited by Erika Engelhaupt
Eruption early in human prehistory may have been more whimper than bang
Greed may breed financial fitness, but evolution allows unselfishness to survive
Fine-tuning of technique used in other animals could enable personalized medicine
Simulation suggests long-term effect on sea level not as dire as some predictions
Coverage of the 2013 American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting
The Year in Science 2012
Three-part series on the scientific struggle to explain the conscious self
Tables of contents, columns and FAQs on SN Prime for iPad