Our take on this year’s big science newsmakers

Readers often tell us that they prize the magazine for keeping them up to speed on science in the broadest sense. We work hard to meet that expectation, with reporters reading scientific journals, traveling to scope out presentations and poster sessions at key research meetings, and talking with many, many scientists to find out what’s new and what’s next.

In the daily swirl of news, it’s easy to lose sight of what we build in a year — a body of work including almost 1,000 original articles, plus columns, reviews, data visualizations, original photography and illustrations, all created to explain the scientific enterprise and provide context on its impact. So it’s a pleasure to be able to pause, look back and consider the signal achievements and events of 2019 for this special issue.

This time around, we quickly agreed that the Event Horizon Telescope team’s first-ever image of a black hole was the most significant advance of the year. It was also among the most delightful; who wouldn’t want to glimpse one of these mysterious beasts? And we weren’t alone in our fascination. Our stories about the April 10 unveiling of that image generated the most traffic ever in a single day to our website. And our work was honored with a Folio “Eddie” award and as a finalist in breaking news coverage by the Online News Association.

Our year-end review also includes a look at “interesting if true” news — findings that generated a lot of buzz but are not yet a sure thing. I would love to learn that I can detect magnetic fields just like migratory birds do, but I’m not ready to relinquish Google Maps. Then there’s our perennially popular roundup of great science books of the year. And our reporters give us a peek into their notebooks to see what trends they’ll be watching in 2020. Another black hole image? Bring it on.

As always, we provide a concise, accurate and lively update on the news, including the first reports from the Parker Solar Probe’s pioneering mission to the sun, and a study finding that DNA screening probably won’t work if your goal is to have taller, smarter “designer babies.”

We’ll take a break in publishing the magazine over the holidays, but you can always stay up to date online. One of our big achievements of 2019 was rebuilding the Science News and Science News for Students websites. They are now much faster and easier to use, whether you’re reading on a desktop computer, a tablet or your phone. They also make the most of visual storytelling, such as this issue’s mesmerizing “fingerprints” that whiskey leaves behind, and the videos of associate digital editor Helen Thompson. One of my favorites shows wee insect larvae leaping 36 times their body length, set to “Also sprach Zarathustra.” I guarantee that will put a smile on your face.

Thank you for making it possible for us to do our work; subscriptions are a key source of funding for our nonprofit enterprise, and we put every dollar to good use. We look forward to exploring the next year in science together.

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.