2009 Science News of the Year: Science & Society

Activists plead for a new agreement during the 2007 U.N. Climate Change Conference. Credit: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images
Activists plead for a new agreement during the 2007 U.N. Climate Change Conference. Credit: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

Leaders warm to climate action
Throughout the year, global leaders used various summits around the world to declare their intention to take firm, though often unilateral, action to reduce their nations’ carbon footprints. In December, negotiators from more than 190 nations convened in Copenhagen for two weeks to work on the framework for a new climate treaty, one to succeed the Kyoto Protocol (SN: 12/5/09, p. 16). In April, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that, based on its reading of the science, greenhouse gases threaten public health (SN Online: 4/17/09). After receiving some 380,000 comments, the EPA reaffirmed its stance on the opening day of the Copenhagen meeting (SN Online: 12/7/09). That assessment has paved the way for the agency to begin developing regulations to limit greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. Although Congress took action on a climate bill, final action on the legislation was held up by wrangling on health care reform.

Lead in schools
Testing in schools in Washington, D.C., reveals that the drinking water contains high concentrations of lead, a problem that may be widespread (SN Online: 1/28/09).

Bright side bias Peerreviewers on biomedical journals show a preference for studies with positive findings, a bias that could make new treatments appear more effective than they are (SN: 10/10/09, p. 9).

Cap that carbon
To reduce the risks of severe effects from climate change, cumulative global carbon emissions must be limited to 1 trillion metric tons, several research teams suggest (SN Online: 4/29/09).

Seeking Moly
Global production of molybdenum-99, the feedstock for the leading medical-imaging isotope, is low and erratic, and diminished stocks may jeopardize health care. Other reactors (University of Missouri’s reactor core shown below) may be converted for production (SN Online: 8/14/09).

What’s up, Doc
Doctors don’t always relay the results of important medical tests to patients, a study of 23 primary care practices finds (SN Online: 6/22/09).

Ghost authors
In biomedical journals, not all authors on a research project are always identified as contributors, a new study finds (SN Online: 9/11/09).

Breathing easier
Americans are living an average of 2.7 years longer than they were in 1980, and a study finds that five months of that increase can be attributed to a decrease in air pollution (SN Online: 1/21/09).

Towers’ aftermath
People near the World Trade Center during the Sept. 11 attacks show higher-than-normal asthma and stress rates years later (SN: 8/29/09, p. 11).

Funding reversal
President Obama rescinds a Bush-era limit on federal funding for research using embryonic stem cells (SN Online: 3/9/09).

Peppery indicator
A pepper virus, widespread in raw sewage, may help point to waters polluted with human waste (SN: 12/19/09, p. 10).

Human spaceflight’s future
A committee reports that NASA’s human spaceflight program needs an additional $30 billion over the next decade (SN: 10/10/09, p. 9).

Kyoto update
Industrialized nations have collectively made major strides in reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, a U.N. study finds. But another study suggests developing countries will fast overtake industrial powers as a source of these pollutants (SN Online: 11/3/09).

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