The Year in Science 2009: What Was Important? What Changed Everything?

By Chris Mooney | December 22, 2009 10:31 am

It is getting to be that time of year again–that time of year when everybody summarizes the year. So this is an open thread to ask for your picks: What happened in science, technology, and medicine in 2009 that was really important, potentially historic or groundbreaking, or simply worth remarking upon?

I certainly have my ideas, but I want to hear what others think as well….


Comments (14)

  1. Carter

    Boron nitrate nanotubes seem pretty promising!

  2. Dougetit
  3. Clark

    The Hubble Mission

  4. Thomas L
  5. Climategate. Obviously.

  6. Chris Mooney

    when i write about this, climategate will definitely be in there.

  7. James T

    Climategate, duh, because it obviously completely altered the scientific consensus on climate change, completely undermined the data climate change is based on, proved that CRU climate scientists fake and fudge data, and proved that CRU faked their temperature record!(Even if other scientific organizations across the world confirm extremely similar results.)

  8. ARJ

    pretty obviously, the re-start of the LHC, already recording a record high energy level, with much more to come in 2010.

  9. Oh, loosening up the stem cell rules. I was in a meeting at the NIH a couple of years ago, on one of the big data projects, and the scientists needed to plan experiments on stem cells. It was absolutely a foundational piece of this project that needed to be done. The grant administration said something like, “I cannot have this conversation until after January 21, 2009” and left the room while the scientists continued to plan and work around the NIH rules.

    It was the first time I witnessed first-hand the actual practice of science blocked by ideology. Made me quite ill, I’m sure I’ll never forget that.

    I was delighted to see the new stem cells announced recently. I think that was important.

    First Human Embryonic Stem Cell Lines Approved for Use Under New NIH Guidelines

  10. Eric the Leaf

    I don’t think that there is a science story that changed everything in ’09. But since you missed this last year, I will retroactively nominate an important landmark for humanity that occured around July, 2008, the peaking of conventional crude oil. That is only one example of the coming bottleneck, wherein the harvesting of finite resources of all kinds out far outstrips their ability to be renewed or, in the case of pollutants, including atmospheric greenhouse gases, their ability to be cleansed. The list includes other vital resources and minerals, such as phosphates, particular elements, fresh water, and topsoil. I have no doubt that global warming represents a particular case of unintended consequences, but it is only one of many converging crises. If by magic, greenhouse gas concentrations were to stabilize or retreat to interglacial norms (highly unlikely in my opinion), the human ecological crisis would still remain in full force. However, chalk up the failure of Copenhagen as a subset of important science stories of ’09.

    Talk of limits have been placed on hold due to the global economic recession and drop in industrial acitivity. Should this end, even temporarily, demand for energy, a necessary component of our true religion–growth–will once again gain the center stage. Faced with the prospect of energy scarcity, coal, natural gas (including the much hyped shale gas), and unconventional oil extraction will go into turbo drive, ironically and problematically hastening their demise.

  11. The Saturnal equinox, photographed by the Cassini mission, with all the amazing pictures of rocks in the rings and crazy shadows.

    Those images will be iconic for decades.

    The release of the first images of a planet around another star will also be important, as will be the first IR spectra of the atmosphere of a planet around another star.

  12. I think COP 15 was more far important than Climategate. The scientists I know who went to Copenhagen came back more optimistic, they said, than they have ever been that a global strategy for mitigating and adapting to climate change will be worked out. There is enormous popular support for this and it was impossible to ignore in Copenhagen. The politicians are listening. There is no longer any serious doubt at the top political levels that climate change is real and must be addressed.


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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.


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