January 9, 2017

Top Science Stories of 2016 – what would our students say?

Posted by Laura Guertin

The end of the calendar year is a time when many lists are published with the best/worst of stories and events from the previous twelve months. The science world also engages in this practice, publishing the top science headlines from various outlets. Last year, I did a similar blog post for top science stories of 2015. Here, I am reproducing that post and updating the list to some of the collections of top science news stories from 2016, not just as a reminder to us of what has happened in our field (going as far back as two semesters, into the previous academic year!), but as a suggested topic to kick off the Spring 2017 semester with students.

If you ask your students what were the major scientific accomplishments in 2016, what would they say? Are they aware of what happened in the previous year, as well as the major concerns and challenges in the sciences? Depending upon the subject area you are teaching, how many (or how few) top stories are in the geosciences, marine sciences, paleontology, etc.? An even bigger question… should students know about what is currently happening in our discipline, and does the answer to this question vary for science and non-science majors?

On the first day of class in 2017, I am going to give each of my students a blank scrap of paper and ask them to write down what they remember as the top five science stories were for 2016 – then I’ll ask them to list any additional stories that relate to our course. I’ll have them write their name on the paper and collect it so I can see what “current event literacy” my students have coming into the course. Since one of the goals of my courses is to highlight recent science news, it will be interesting to see how students answer this same question when I ask it again at the end of the semester for comparison.

This modification could be a fun way to start… what did scientists predict would be the big science stories for 2016? Nature had told us The science to look out for in 2016, Scientific American had reported The Science to Look Out for in 2016, and The Los Angeles Times had mentioned Twelve amazing science stories we can’t wait to follow in 2016. Did the science happen? Was it newsworthy in the end?

But whether you decide to ask your students about the top science news stories for 2016 or not, I encourage you to review these lists to see if there were any announcements that you may have missed!

Note that Science News has given us What’s ahead for science in 2017? (and a video for What’s ahead for Earth Science in 2017?) Ensia has written From electric noses to invasive bees, 15 surprising trends for 2017. Nature News has published 2017 sneak peak: What the new year holds for science. BBC News has A science news preview of 2017. And NBC News even has 11 Surprising Predictions for 2017 From Some of The Biggest Names In Science.

(please add any lists/links in the Comments section that I may have missed!)