2010 Science News of the Year: Science & Society

Hypodermic needle
Credit: Ayimages/Istockphoto

Vaccine link to autism dismissed
In February, Lancet formally retracted a 1998 study that had kindled a storm of opposition to vaccines (SN Online: 2/3/10). The research suggested that autism arose in a handful of children after the kids received shots to prevent measles, mumps and rubella. The study’s lead author committed several ethical breaches, and the selection of participants in the study may have been biased, the U.K. General Medical Council reported in January following an investigation. Following suit, Lancet retracted the paper, noting that “several elements” of the study were incorrect. Alarms that the study raised about vaccines, though, continue to reverberate despite subsequent research in Britain, Japan and Finland that has found no connection between the MMR vaccine and autism.

Lingering effects Many emergency responders to the 9/11 attack in New York City (above) still have breathing problems (SN: 5/8/10, p. 12).

R&D investments lag U.S. research competitiveness remains in peril even as other nations steam ahead, a report finds (SN Online: 9/23/10).

Time is money Minor air-traffic delays due to inclement weather cost the U.S. economy more than hurricanes, meteorologists calculate (SN: 2/13/10, p. 9).

Risk-blind cons Compared with men lacking prison records, inmates have a harder time assessing the probability of big gains or losses when taking risks (SN: 11/20/10, p. 7), suggesting that programs helping convicts understand risk could decrease recidivism.

Don’t know much Science literacy in the United States has tripled over the past 20 years — to 28 percent — which is better than almost anywhere else (SN: 3/13/10, p. 13).

Dual diagnosis U.S. health care is not fully prepared to cope with the nation’s 75 million patients per year with at least two chronic medical conditions (SN Online: 4/6/10).

Stifled R&D Making scientific information proprietary, such as by licensing intellectual property, can quash innovation, a study of patented genes concludes (SN Online: 8/9/10).

Summertime blues Teaching hospitals tend to make more medication errors during July, when newly minted doctors arrive (SN Online: 6/2/10).

Shields up Adding face protection to current U.S. military helmets could deflect some of the blast force that causes brain injury (SN: 12/18/10, p. 16).

Buried data Important details from roughly one in five drug trials for treating the most common type of stroke were never made public, a study finds (SN Online: 4/22/10).

Telltale smudge Imaging technology reveals that Thomas Jefferson made a last-minute revision to the Declaration of Independence (below), calling colonists citizens instead of subjects (SN Online: 7/3/10). A Library of Congress scientist spotted a smudge on an early draft of the historic document, then discovered what had been erased by photographing the paper in 13 different wavelengths of light and subjecting the images to 10 hours of computer processing.