Somewhere I read or heard that all economic progress is driven by technological advancement.
I think it behooves us all to stay up-to-date on the latest science. So I thought I’d find a year review of discoveries.
Short Detour: Biggest Discoveries of this Century
I haven’t ever done this before, so I first sought out the biggest discoveries in science since I left high school (year 2000). I figured my knowledge must be that far out of date.
If the Discovery Channel is to be trusted, then I had heard of 7 of their top 10 discoveries except:
- We’ve taken a direct picture of a planet around another star (instead of detecting it indirectly), 2008.
- The “missing link” between chimps and people has nearly been found in Africa, 2002.
- They found T-rex soft tissue in an ancient bone, and yes, it tastes like chicken.
If I learned of these when they happened, then I’d since forgotten them.
The other discoveries since 2000, in case you want to know:
- Pluto isn’t really a planet, and there’s a bigger Pluto nearby called Eris anyway.
- Dark matter exists (“Discovery Channel, wait a minute, does it really?”)
- People can control artificial limbs and things with their minds.
- Making stem cells no longer requires embryos.
- Mars had liquid water on it, and still has ice.
- The human genome was completely mapped.
- Glaciers are going extinct.
The Discovery Channel list was written before the discovery of the Higgs-Boson, about which I remember hearing. We’ll take the scientists’ word and agree that it’s also a big one. So let’s say there are eleven really big discoveries so far this century.
Biggest Discoveries of 2014
After that list, I googled “2014 in science.” Wikipedia to the rescue.
Overall, here are the trends I see in that massive list of discoveries in 2014:
- Many old species are now extinct, including
- The incredible axolotl (extinct in the wild)
- White rhinos (one down, 5 left)
- Many species were just added to the wait list for extinction
- Australian possums
- Climate change is being variously over and under-predicted, but mostly under.
- The number of studies saying that climate change is manmade completely dwarf the work to do anything about it.
- Asteroids are whizzing past our faces ALL THE TIME.
- 2014 had so many life sciences break-through’s it seems nothing about life sciences will remain a mystery for long.
- There are still undiscovered places on earth, including
- A coral reef off the coast of Iraq and Iran
- There are still undiscovered animals on earth, including dolphins, jellyfish, deep sea fish, and small mammals discovered this year.
Climate dominates the research so let me give one short thought on it:
I wonder why so many climate scientists feel the need to continue research proving that climate change is man-made. If you can’t convince the nay-sayers, it’s time to work around them. Carbon capture or other clean technologies made economically better would be naturally adopted without a single law, and faster than any law. If only a Prius cost what a Corolla did.
Apart from climate, here are some specific breath-takers from the list of 2014 discoveries:
- We can now cryofreeze a leech, and thaw it back to life after months. And moss, after 1,500 years.
- A prosthetic limb can now convey a sense of touch.
- Scientific output is now doubling every nine years.
- In our quest to find life on Mars, we have almost certainly contaminated it.
- We can instantaneously, faster-than-light transmit information over a distance of hundreds of miles using quantum teleportation. (You just have to carry two very small quantum receivers hundreds of miles.)
- Dental fillings may soon be a thing of the past.
- We saved the whales
- We can vibrate the air into solid feeling objects.
But that’s all. Most of the rest of the so-called discoveries were incremental refinements to our understanding about stuff. “Coffee might do this to the liver.” “Tea might do that to your brain.”
From the point of view of any single project, science is slow. But in the aggregate over all the projects, the pace is really astonishing.
I think folks would all feel a lot better if technology caught up to the global warming thing. Seems like that’s what was missing from the list of 2014 accomplishments.