Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Nature's review of 2006

Nature is one of the world's two premier science journals, the other being... Science. Sadly, their review of this year's science developments is, to this observer at least, simply underwhelming.

Oh, they mention Perelman's work on the Poincaré conjecture, and a couple of developments in biology (stem cells, and genetics). But as far as fundamental science is concerned, that's about it. Their emphasis is predominantly on stories that made big newspaper headlines for social/political reasons, such as global warming and natural disasters.

Sure, that stuff is very important for its human impact. No argument about it. But it's been covered endlessly in the popular media. Does Nature think they've added much to what you could read in, say, the New York Times? Or Newsweek, for that matter.

My advice to Nature, not that they've asked: Put the main emphasis on the fundamental science – in some serious depth we can't find elsewhere – instead of the yakety-yak one can hear from any talking head on the news shows.

That said, if anyone reading this still wants to read a little more from Nature's editors about what they considered scientfically important in 2006, here are some of their top 10 lists:

Editor's choice stories
A "vegetative" patient who showed signs of consciousness. That was number 1! A social scientist who could glibly discuss gravitational waves. (Number 3.) The world's smallest vertebrate. (Number 4.) Demise of the world's "most infamous" iceberg. (Did you know there was one?)

Reader's choice stories (most clicked on)
This list is better than the editor's choice. But not by much. Example: "Sexy pictures and lacy underwear take men's minds off getting a good deal."

Most commented on stories from Nature's news blog
This is probably the most interesting list. Lots of good arguments here, if you care for that sort of thing. Does gender matter? Islam and science. Delusions of faith.

Longer news features
Ranges from the genuinely important (climate change) to the "why did they bother?" category. And you'll have to buy a subscription to read most of them. Betcha no one does.


For the record: here's the home page for Nature's "review of the year's top stories and pictures".

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