2012: A Year (Lost) in Review

by David King on December 28, 2012

Now that a full week has passed since the world didn’t end (to everyone’s surprise, I’m quite certain), I thought it appropriate to reflect on the year – and in particular, on something that has me quite bothered.

I’ve never been a fan of watching the evening news, or reading the morning newspaper. While I like to stay informed, I can’t stand the way the news is edited, filtered, and truncated into mere seconds of information, as if hearing that “a new study has found a link between coffee and prostate cancer” is valuable information in and of itself. Add to this the trend of running useless gossipy celebrity stories before hardly relevant local ones, and I simply don’t have the patience.

Our short attention spans have only become shorter, and they have resulted in the near silencing of real, honest news – or a deafening, one might say, of the public to what really matters. Ask the average person what’s bothering them, and that’s what the news focuses on. Challenge people too much – or worse, make them think – and they’ll just turn away.

An important story in 2012 Canadian news was the ‘death of evidence’ protest by scientists on Parliament Hill. Back in July, the federal government made a number of significant cuts to science programs throughout the country, as well as legislative changes that would reduce the flow of scientific and statistical information to the public, essentially silencing the voice of science in Canada. As many protestors suggested, the motivation for this may have been a desire to filter information to the public.

Conspiracy theories aside (although science is frequently manipulated and construed with self-interest by governments, businesses, and individuals alike), the attack on science reflects a larger social condition that extends well beyond the Canadian government.

Quite simply, people are giving up on science. We are less intrigued by the natural world than by our iPads and Honey Boo Boo’s. We awake in the morning not intrigued by life but indebted to a manufactured lifestyle, and we face the world not with curiosity but with contempt for the things we must do. Wonder is a thing for children, diluted in puberty and dissolved in adulthood.

To this point, here are some news-worthy stories of 2012 you (probably) didn’t hear about: In August, NASA’s rover Curiosity (essentially a portable car-sized laboratory) landed safely on the surface of Mars, beginning its two-year exploratory mission. Around the same time, liquid water was detected at Mercury’s poles, possible only because the planet closest to the sun has nearly no rotational tilt. Moving on to physics, a theoretical particle known as the Higgs boson (predicted nearly 50 years ago) was believed to have been discovered accidentally by European scientists in July. The Higgs boson is responsible for giving all elementary particles their mass, and it’s the only particle in the Standard Model of particle physics that hasn’t been detected or observed previously. Its discovery, if validated, would have a huge impact on our understanding of the universe (including its origins). In the field of biology, six other molecules besides DNA were found to store and transfer genetic information, while stem cells were discovered in human ovaries back in February, suggesting that women may be able to produce new eggs after they are born. In the summer of 2012, our understanding of the natural world grew a little more, with the unearthing of a 47 million year-old fossil of two mating turtles and the finding that elderly termites develop explosive crystals on their backs that are activated when the nest is threatened. Just a couple of weeks ago, a team of British paleontologists utilized new computer technology to determine that 90 million year-old dinosaur senses were far more complex than previously believed, and may have contributed to more dynamic social behaviours in herbivore species. On the environmental front, Arctic sea ice reached a record low in September, while a November report from the European Environment Agency warned of worsening effects of climate change for all European nations, at a much faster rate than previously estimated. Returning to space, yet another potentially Earth-like planet was found just 12 light years from our solar system, and the largest black hole to date may have been discovered by researchers in Texas – about 17 billion times the mass of our sun. Oh, and Curiosity? In early December, the little rover uncovered traces of carbon in Martian soil samples, although further analyses are needed to determine their origin – and if they could be ingredients for Martian life.

And there’s more – tons of it. But this isn’t the stuff of daily news. No, indeed it would seem that science has become boring to most, replaced by intrigue over Britney’s latest facial expressions on The X Factor. (To the surprise of scientists everywhere, Britney Spears is capable of manipulating her facial muscles in just as many ways as the average member of our species.)

Science is definitely under attack, but the problem starts with us. As individuals, we need to reignite our excitement for science and reclaim our intuitive wonder of the natural world. There is more to us than the stuff of morning print and evening news. There is more to us than our daily delusions of what living really means, or what it could mean – and what it could offer. Lasting purpose is found not in the plastic fads and trends of pop culture, but in the organic ebbs and flows of the natural world, and in all the space that surrounds us – and defines us.

I’m not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. If you identify a change you need to make in your life, I believe that you should always start now, regardless of the year, month, or day. But if I were to propose a collective resolution for 2013, it would be to inquire more. Inquire, and give science the respect it deserves.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: