17 Great Science and Skepticism Things in 2016


Many people consider 2016 to be a truly shit year with the election of Donald Trump, Brexit, continued armed conflicts in the world, terror attacks and famous celebrities dying. While the overall trend shows great improvement on just about any metric, it is not impossible for individual years to deviate somewhat from this trend. Thus, we should not lose too much hope because of events that happened during this year. For those of you who are feeling the 2016 blues, try reading this Vox article that feature Steven Pinker explaining how 2016 has made improvements in many areas.

However, let us focus a bit on some of the positive and upbeat events during 2016 that related to science, skepticism or related issues. Ebola is over in Africa and we now have a vaccine. The Paris Agreement was signed and the ozone hole over the Arctic show signs of healing. Sri Lanka is free of malaria and the Americans are free of measles. Gravitational waves were discovered and a new record-breaking small genome was synthesized. The FTC cracked down on homeopathy and the Swedish government will transition towards eliminate special treatment as well. Here are 17 good things that happened in 2016.

Ebola outbreak in Africa is over

On January 14, the World Health Organization declared that the latest outbreak of Ebola in Liberia is over and that active transmission in Africa has stopped. They did warn for small-scale flare-ups, but concluded that the latest battle with the disease is likely over.

Gravitational waves discovery paper published

On February 11, the paper detailing the discovery of gravitational waves was published in Physical Review Letters. The observation closely matches predictions made by general relativity.

Synthesis of a minimal bacterial genome

On 25 March, Craig Venter and colleagues published a paper where they had synthesized a minimal bacterial genome that only contained 473 genes.

Paris agreement

On April 22, the Paris Agreement that focused on mitigating global warming and climate effect was signed. By the end of 2016, a total of 194 countries have signed it and 120 have ratified it into national law.

Naturopathy believers who neglected their son to death gets prison or house arrest

On June 24, David and Collet Stephan was sentenced to four months in jail and three months of house arrest for failing to provide the necessities of life for their young son Ezekiel who died on meningitis. Instead of seeking medical help, they relied on unscientific and ineffective naturopathy.

Sweden decides to eliminate exemptions for anthroposophic homeopathy

On June 30, the Swedish government decided to eliminate an exemption for anthroposophic homeopathy that allowed them to circumvent requirements for safety and efficacy evidence. However, this will be done during a 5 year transition period.

Planting 50 million trees in a single day

On July 11, 800 000 volunteers planted 50 million trees in a single day to help mitigate climate change.

Antarctic Ozone Hole Begins to Heal

On July 15, a paper by MIT researchers Solomon and colleagues published in Science showed that the ozone hole over the Antarctic is beginning to heal due to international agreements to limit ozone-damaging industrial compounds.

Juno reaches Jupiter

On August 27, the NASA spacecraft Juno reached Jupiter and started collecting data.

Giant panda no longer endangered

On September 4, The International Union for Conservation of Nature downgraded the Giant panda from endangered to vulnerable.

Sri Lanka declares malaria-free

On September 5, WHO declares Sri Lanka free from malaria after aggressive prevention and treatment campaigns.

Colombia peace deal signed

On September 27, a historic peace deal was signed in Colombia between the government and the Farc rebels that formally ends a 52-year-long armed conflict. War is, of course, most often completely irrational.

Measles eliminated from the Americas

On September 27, the Pan America Health Organization and the World Health Organization jointly announced that measles has been eliminated from North and South America. Between 1971-79, measles killed over 100 000 people. It is estimated that vaccination efforts will have prevented 3.2 million cases and 16 000 deaths of measles between 2000-2020.

FTC crackdown on homeopathy

On November 11, the Federal Trade Commission announced that it will start holding homeopathic over-the-counter products to the same efficacy and safety standards as other products. No more special treatment.

GM mosquitoes approved in Florida Keys

On November 19, local officials in Florida Keys approved the use of GM mosquitoes to handle Zika and other problems related to mosquitoes. The suggestion received both FDA approval and support from the voters.

Promising Ebola vaccine pass crucial test

On December 22, a phase III clinical trial of an rVSV-vectored vaccine against Ebola was published in The Lancet with high efficacy and effectiveness. This will be an important tool in preventing, mitigating and actively combating future outbreaks of Ebola.

Unemployment falling

On December 31, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show a massive drop in unemployment in the U. S that approach the unemployment rates before the 2008 recession.

Let’s make 2017 a great year for science and skepticism.

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Debunker of pseudoscience.

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