2016 : WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER THE MOST INTERESTING RECENT [SCIENTIFIC] NEWS? WHAT MAKES IT IMPORTANT?

Brooks and Suzanne Ragen Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science, Yale University; Author, Against Empathy
Science Itself

The most exciting recent scientific news is about science itself: how it is funded, how scientists communicate with another, how findings get distributed to the public—and how it can go wrong. My own field of psychology has been Patient Zero here, with well-publicized cases of fraud, failures to replicate important studies, and a host of concerns, some of them well-founded, about how we do our experiments and analyze our results.

There’s a lot to complain about with regard to how this story has played out in the popular press and over social media. Psychology—and particularly social psychology—has been unfairly singled out. The situation is at least as bad in other fields, such as cancer research. More importantly, legitimate concerns have been exaggerated and used by partisans on both the left and the right to dismiss any findings that don’t fit their interests and ideologies.

But it’s a significant story, and a lot of good can come from it. It’s important for non-scientists to have some degree of scientific literacy, and this means more than a familiarity with certain theories and discoveries. It requires an appreciation of how science works, and how it stands apart from other human activities, most notably religion. A serious public discussion of what scientists are doing wrong and how they can do better will not only lead to better science, it will help advance scientific understanding more generally.