December 31, 2020

Top Science Stories of 2020 – 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. I have generated similar blog posts for top science stories of 20152016, 2017, 2018, and 2019. Here, I am reproducing that post and updating the list to some of the collections of top science news stories from 2020, not just as a reminder to us of what has happened in our field going as far back as two semesters, but as a suggested topic to kick off the Spring 2021 semester with students.



If you ask your students what were the major scientific accomplishments in 2020, what would they say? Are they aware of what happened in the previous year (beyond COVID), 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?



One idea is that on the first day of class in the semester, you could provide each of my students a blank scrap of paper (or ask them to enter in a Google Form, Doc, or Jamboard) and ask them to write down what they remember as the top five science stories were for 2020 – then ask them to list any additional stories that relate to your course. Have the students write their name on the paper and collect it so you can see what “current event literacy” students have coming into the course. Since one of the goals of my courses is to highlight recent science news, I’m always interested in seeing 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 2020? Nature News had published The science events to watch for in 2020. Then there was NBC’s Innovations 12 reasons why 2020 will be an awesome year, and Los Angeles Times Eight science stories to watch for in 2020. Did the science happen? Was it newsworthy in the end? Something tells me the really big stories may not have been predicted – and it will be interesting to see what the future science news headlines will be.



But whether you decide to ask your students about the top science news stories for 2020 or not, I encourage you to review these lists to see if there were any announcements that you may have missed!



Science has also published The science stories likely to make headlines in 2021.


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