In the US, colistin is the last resort antibiotic doctors use to treat infections that are resistant to virtual every other drug in the world. In China, colistin is fed to pigs by the ton to fatten them up. Welp. After researchers found a colistin-resistance gene in China this year, scientists realized it’s since spread to Europe as well.
When the World Health Organization says something, you usually listen, so when the WHO classifies processed red meat—like bacon!—as a carcinogen, AHHHHHHHHH. But if you read beyond the headlines, you’d see that the bacon cancer link is very, very small, and the WHO classification is a bureaucratic artifact suddenly thrust into the bacon-obsessed Internet’s limelight.
Physicists have been “a decade away” from nuclear fusion for…decades, and the hopelessly mired big projects at the US’s National Ignition Facility and the international collaboration ITER aren’t looking good. But multiple companies this year, including big names like Lockheed Martin and to secretive startups like Tri Alpha Energy, claimed to make “breakthroughs” in fusion. But check back in 10 years.
Martin Shkreli, the hedge fund trader turned pharma bro, angered pretty much every decent person in the world by raising the price for a parasite drug from $13.50 to $750 overnight. Then he decided to do it with second drug. Then, like an early Christmas present to humanity, the feds arrested him on charges of securities fraud—separate from his (largely legal) drug price gouging.
The blood testing company was a media darling until a Wall Street Journal article took Theranos to task for its unreliable tests and unproven technology. You can see the story as 1) a deliciously schadenfreude-laden takedown of a blood testing company coasting on its young CEO’s charisma and black turtlenecks or 2) a light on the loopholes that allow medical test companies to sidestep FDA regulation, which frankly, is much more worrying.
Science certainly did not solve sexism this year, but scientists started talking about it more openly and loudly and, oh, a famous man actually lost his job over it. Berkeley astronomer Geoff Marcy resigned after it came to light he had been sexually harassing female students for years. The revelations prompted soul-searching among scientists, shocked that Berkeley had swept his behavior under the rug for so long.
2015 was not the year scientists disproved the conservation of momentum so, uh, 2015 is also not the year NASA figured out interstellar travel. But that didn’t quell frothing excitement over the electromagnetic propulsion drive, which could conceivably thrust us into the farthest reaches of space without propellant. If it worked. And so far, the evidence is pretty nonexistent. Yes, still.
Everything has its good, bad, and ugly—you’ve probably heard a lot of science’s good by now, so this is all about the bad and the ugly. Oh boy.
This year in science had plenty of your standard overhype: the warp drive and nuclear fusion, served with a side of bacon cancer. It had pharma trolls and melting ice caps and CEOs in empty black turtleneck suits. It also had existential dread. Happy new year, everyone.
Nola was a gentle elderly rhino who liked apples and backrubs from her caretakers at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. But when she died this fall, her death spoke to a greater tragedy: With Nola gone, only three northern white rhinos are left in the world—all elderly or otherwise unable to reproduce. The northern white rhino is yet another step closer to extinction.
Arctic sea ice has had a poor run for, uh, the past three decades, but things are, I swear, finally looking up. The year in climate ended on a hopeful note with the Paris talks, which extracted promises to reduce carbon emissions from almost 200 countries. About time, given at the Arctic sea ice this past winter was the lowest since satellite observations began 30 years ago.
It’s become routine to remark on the routineness of the reactions to a mass shooting: One side calls for gun control, the other for more guns, and Congress never does anything. Research into gun deaths—and what might prevent them—has also been stymied by the lack good data and federal funding, thanks again to Congress. Meanwhile, guns deaths are on track to top 30,000 in the US again this year.