Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Year in Science

What most of you probably don’t know about me is that I’m an armchair scientist (emphasis on armchair). My college minor was geology and I took a variety of science classes as electives, simply because I love learning the what, why, where and how of life. If it had been a fathomable option for my generation and gender, I guess I would have become a scientist. But it really wasn’t, or didn’t seem so at the time, so for years I’ve read a lot about science – on a very superficial, novice-y level mind you, i.e., the annual Best American Science and Nature Writing books, Discover magazine (to which I have subscribed for years) and the books they recommend, and an occasional Popular Science or Scientific American, usually purchased in airports along with People magazine (which reveals the dichotomy of my whacky interests.)

Anyway, one of my favorite issues of Discover is the annual review of the top 100 science discoveries/stories of the year. Let’s see if I can summarize the top 10 in a couple of sentences, without boring you to tears. First, the list, then click on “Read More” for my “take” on each:
1. Vaccines & Autism
2. NASA – We Have a Problem
3. Anthropological Origins -Theory De Jour
4. Stem Cell Miracles
5. 12 Billion Years Ago
6. Swine Flu
7. Graphene – The New Silicon
8. Earth-Like Worlds Discovered
9. Burying Carbon Emissions
10. The Psychology of Overspending

Vaccines and Autism
This is certainly an issue that has scared the hound dog out of every parent and grandparent. There are numerous studies “disproving” the connection between the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccines (and the mercury additive thimerosal) and Autism. However, since researchers have yet to isolate the cause of Autism, which is currently being diagnosed in 1 of every 91 children, it is no wonder this is still such a hot issue. Of course they told us cigarettes weren’t harmful either.

NASA – We Have a Problem
It seems that independent studies have confirmed that NASA just isn’t doing a very good job. I’m sure it is all those government employees standing around the water cooler. It couldn’t possibly be that the issues are mind-bogglingly  complex! So the new theory is to let private enterprise compete to see who is smarter, faster. Hmmm. On your mark, get set, Carnival Cruise to Mars!

Anthropological Origins - Theory De Jour
New skeletons older than Lucy, blah, blah, blah..... We’ve been around a long time. Whatever.

Stem Cell Miracles
Paralysis, among other really bad human afflictions, is on the way out. Yay!

12 Billion Years Ago
OK, this one blows my mind. They can detect residues of galactic activities from back in the “toddler years” of the universe (12 billion years ago). I like history, but I really just have a hard time wrapping my head around 12 billion years.

Swine Flu
We’ve heard about this issue to ad nauseum. Spanish flu killed 100 million people in 1918. About 35,000 people die each year from the flu anyway, but they say that “pretty much everyone is going to get Swine Flu” and it is going to kill many more. We’ll see.

Graphene – The New Silicon
At one atom thick, this new substance is faster than silicon and “thousands of times as efficient.” Ba-bye Silicon Valley.

Earth-Like Worlds Discovered
Don’t get too excited, it’s 7, 500 light-years away and has a daytime temperature of 2,000, so the interpretation of “earth-like” is pretty loose.

Burying Carbon Emissions
Since coal is the leading source of carbon emissions in the US, instead of spewing it all over the place, let’s siphon it off and bury it underground. I think an Aggie thought that one up.

The Psychology of Overspending
Why people make bad money decisions, and a look at the “greed is good” approach – pretty interesting stuff. Now if only they could invent a pill that makes you want to cut up your credit cards!


  1. My word SueAnn, where do you find this stuff to read--you are getting waaaaaaay toooo serious and thiiinking way too much for someone our age!! Bless your heart, I am looking for some good laid back junk reading for you!!
    Just kidding but you do have a wide range--guess that is why your are such an interesting person because you have an inquiring mind! Love you girlfriend! Linda Sue

  2. Love you too sweetie. I have no idea where my bottomless curiosity comes from - probably mom, who was an even more voracious reader than I. Don't confuse my reading preferences with intelligence gal-friend. You may not crave science like me, but you're still one of the smartest gals I know.