It’s pretty safe to say that 2016 sucked a big one. Adding insult to injury, the worst day of the year for me (and likely many of you) just happened to fall on my birthday–November 9th. But, before we slam the door on this year (and look forward to next? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯), let’s reflect on some memorable science in the media in 2016.
I’ll be the first to admit I have not read all books, watched all shows or movies, nor found all Tweeps, blogs, and podcasts about science, but my interests undoubtedly led me to experience quite a few. The following are my own opinions on the best of 2016. Not all of you will agree, it’d be kind of sad if you did, so please leave a comment of what you think topped the charts for science in the media this year.
Story of 2016
Winner: Zika virus. When a virus pops up in a new location, it’s cause for alarm. When that virus also causes developmental defects in babies born to infected pregnant women, it blows the roof off the doors. Zika virus was undoubtedly the most covered science story of the year, with 3 articles on this very blog.
Runner up: CRISPR. A system of DNA editing that provides immunity for bacteria wouldn’t seem to be a likely candidate for story of the year, but it’s the application of the phenomenon that will change science and medicine. Fixing broken genes in diseases like cystic fibrosis and severe immunodeficiencies will soon be a reality, and that my friends is a big story.
Book of 2016
Winner: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. This was one of the most beautifully heartbreaking books I have ever read. In striving to understand his impending death from cancer, Kalanithi came to understand the meaning of life. You can read my review of the book here.
Runner up: I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong. Despite that most of us view microorganisms like bacteria and viruses as harmful germs or bugs, most microorganisms do not cause disease. Ed Yong takes us on a fascinating journey to better understand how we are all part of a community whether we’re looking from the global or microscopic perspective.
Movie of 2016
Winner: Rogue One. To be honest, I was a little disappointed with the lack of detail for how Imperial scientist Galen Erso created the Death Star, but this was one of my favorite movies of the year regardless, so whatever. What we know is that the Death Star, the ultimate weapon, destroyer of planets fires a superlaser powered by kyber crystals scoured from all over the galaxy. Coopted to finish the Death Star, Galen created a secret weak spot that could implode the entire base (a reality at the end of A New Hope). So a rebel band of Rebels, calling themselves Rogue One, go steal the Death Star schematics from the Empire headquarters. The movie ends in a heartfelt scene wherein a young, digitally reconstructed Princess Leia simple states that the acquisition of the schematics represents “hope”.
Runner up: Doctor Strange. In a trippy clash between ancient eastern and modern western medicine, the titular Dr. Strange attempts to find a cure for his mangled hands so he can return to his life as a neurosurgeon. He finds a man who whose paralysis was cured by the Ancient One in Nepal. He makes his way to the Ancient One, but his wishes aren’t granted as his motives are weak. Only upon searching inward and opening awareness to alternate realities is Dr. Strange cured, but also pulled into a war to save the universe.
Tweeps of 2016
Winner: Alie Caldwell (@alie_astrocyte) is a science communication advocate who reflects on life, neuroscience, and grad school in such a witty and friendly manner. Her feed is full of reactions to the news of the day, politics, and engagement at conferences and events.
Runner up: Joe Hanson (@DrJoeHansen) is the host of the PBS web show It’s Ok to be Smart. His feed is a hilarious take on science in everyday life with lots of pictures, videos, and memes just screaming to be shared. Also the video of his summation of 2016 ends with, “Let’s keep sciencing up reasons to look on the bright side.” Here, here.
TV show of 2016
Winner: Westworld (HBO). A western-themed, real-world amusement park filled with AI “hosts” and visited by the 1%–what could possibly go wrong? Turns out, just about everything, making this HBO show one of the years best overall, not just in my own science category. From the creation of AI hosts with storylines to follow, resurrection after being shot dead by the park visitors, and altering their behavioral code along the way, Westworld is a parody of life gone sideways–with all the adventures we want and all the control we need.
Runner up: Black Mirror (Netflix). Dubbed the Twilight Zone for the digital age, Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror is an enlightening and sometimes horrifying take on technology and life. This season started off with a eerie glimpse around the corner–life with a grading system for everyday social encounters. Imagine getting a score for ordering a coffee from the barista at a cafe or after bumping into someone on the street. And your social score essentially replaces money, determining whether you can rent an apartment or book a flight, and dictating where you fit in the social hierarchy. With today’s likes on social media and ratings for both drivers and passengers for an Uber ride, it’s frightening to think that we are already using social scoring as currency.
Podcast of 2016
Winner: Science Vs. I simply love Wendy Zukerman’s approach to finding scientific truths by immersing herself in the research, conducting poignant interviews, and putting it all together in a captivating and cogent story for each pod. This year Science Vs. covered topical stories including Zika virus, gun control, and forensic science.
Runner up: Two docs talk. This 10-15 minute pod from Drs. Amy Rogers and Kendall Britt is the perfect bite-sized chunk of healthcare, medicine, and research stories. They also do a great job at explaining how studies differ (a randomized trial being more rigorous than a cohort study, for example)–a critical appraisal process that researchers and clinicians do automatically, but which rarely enters the public discussion of the study.
Blog of 2016
Winner: HIV and ID Observations blog from Dr. Paul Sax at New England Journal of Medicine. Being an immunology/ID nerd from Massachusetts myself, I really enjoy how Dr. Sax intersects clinical medicine, research, and life in Boston in his blog. Add to that, the hilarious cartoon caption contests and I’m in stitches.
Runner up: Scizzle. The Scizzle blog is a great compilation of articles ranging from new research in different fields of medicine to grad school and career advice. Anyone can contribute a piece, as I once did (if you’re interested in my career transition from basic research to medical writing, you can find it here).
YouTube channel of 2016
Winner: Hank Green’s SciShow. From medical mysteries to how to pour the perfect beer, this YouTube channel has something for everyone (and a lot for me!). This year’s most popular videos include Why do we have butt hair? and What happens when you hold your pee?
Runner up: The Brain Scoop at the Field Museum. Hosted by Emily Graslie at the Chicago Field Museum, this YouTube channel covers all of biology from mammals and insects to human behavior and bias. My favorite type of video are the Ask Emily episodes where Emily answers questions from subscribers.
After all that I suppose 2016 wasn’t all that bad–at least we’ve had a lot of great science in the media to distract us. I linked just about everything I could, so if you haven’t seen/heard/read something on this list, please go check it out and support these fantastic advocates for science. And of course, there are so many other great resources out there promoting science, if you’re favorite didn’t make the list, let us know–maybe they’ll make the cut next year.