2011 Science News of the Year

You can’t make this stuff up.

An earthquake and tsunami trigger the worst nuclear accident in decades, contaminating thousands of square kilometers in one of the world’s most densely populated countries. Analyses of a sliver of finger bone reveal that the genes of an extinct human relative survive in many people living today. Single-celled organisms floating in a test tube join up, with a little coaxing, to create multi-cellular organisms in what could be a reenactment of one of the most seminal events in the history of life.

You don’t have to make it up, though, because it all happened in 2011. Some of the year’s revelations were downright unnerving: Sea level is rising at an accelerating rate and Arctic ice cover continues its long-term decline. On the economics front, network analysis has revealed that the world’s capital really is concentrated in the hands of just a few players.

But there are reasons for optimism, too. Research hints that antidepressants can stave off Alzheimer’s disease, and a vaccine against malaria shows signs of effectiveness in African children. By mining electronic medical records, researchers in Denmark have drawn possibly informative links between unlikely pairs of ailments, such as migraines and hair loss.

Then there were the stories that were just too wild to be true: Neutrinos appeared to violate Einstein’s theory of relativity by flying faster than light, but other work suggests they were doing no such thing. And a 2009 study linking chronic fatigue syndrome to a wily virus called XMRV has been retracted, triggering spasms of finger-pointing among virologists.

And all of this news appeared in the pages of Science News. In case you missed any of it, read on. —Matt Crenson, News Editor

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