Celebrating successes while examining failures

At Science News, we focus intently on the “what” of science: what’s new in fields from astronomy to zoology. But we also step back and consider the “who,” “how” and “why” of the scientific endeavor.

In this special issue, we profile 10 young scientists who aren’t afraid to challenge the paradigms of how science is practiced. Rather than stick to one discipline, collaborating across fields seems ingrained in their DNA. And their willingness to leap boundaries and merge seemingly unrelated areas of expertise (engineering and public policy with psychology, for example) to take a fresh look at stubborn problems is getting results.

“She sees things that other researchers do not see,” astronomer Kenneth Freeman says of one of our honorees, astrophysicist Paula Jofré. That quality could be applied to each of our honorees. They share a curiosity that drives them forward.

For the third year in a row, we’ve commissioned artist Sam Falconer to illustrate our SN 10 cover. He has a terrific way of turning the stories of 10 very different researchers into one engrossing image that is fun to explore — a treasure map to the daily work of science. Falconer also illustrated our June 23 cover on mathematician Emmy Noether, the unsung hero of modern-day physics (SN: 6/23/18, p. 20). He never disappoints.

Science has its share of disappointments, however. Our mission to cover the “how” and “why” of science also requires us to investigate where scientists fall short. In recent months, we’ve covered the gender gap in academic publishing (SN: 5/26/18, p. 32), as well as a National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine report that found that more than half of women in academia have been sexually harassed (SN Online: 6/22/18).

Staff writers Bruce Bower and Tina Hesman Saey have been following the replication crisis — the fact that many studies, when repeated by other scientists, don’t deliver the same results. Replication serves a core fact-checking function, and the premise is that any new finding should be taken with a grain of salt until it’s been verified by others. That’s been especially true in the social sciences, where an overreliance on null hypothesis testing as proof of significance has led to a lot of shaky results.

“The social and behavioral sciences are in the midst of a reformation in scientific practices,” Brian Nosek, director of the Center for Open Science and a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, told Bower (SN: 9/29/18, p. 10).

This may sound like bad news compared with the stellar work of our SN 10 honorees. But confronting the replication crisis, along with improving the research process and peer review, is essential to building a solid foundation for the science of the future, which the scientists we’ve profiled here are hard at work creating. 

As we cover the breadth and depth of science, I’ll make sure we keep you informed on the exciting work of the next generation of great scientists, as well as where the practice of science falls short. 

Nancy Shute is editor in chief of Science News Media Group. Previously, she was an editor at NPR and US News & World Report, and a contributor to National Geographic and Scientific American. She is a past president of the National Association of Science Writers.

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