This time of year many websites and bloggers like to go back through their posts and determine which ones were the best of the bunch. I like to think that most of my writing is pretty terrible and if you wanted to read something you already would have. So instead we’re going to look at 12 things that happened this year. These are 12 things you may not know about, or at least hadn’t realized. The point is not to just collect stories, but to make sure you noticed what really happened this year.
We communicated with a comatose patient: Science news this year has largely been consumed by the Higgs boson and the accomplishments of Mars. But something amazing happened in medicine as well. Doctors figured out a way to communicate with a patient that had been in a coma for 7 years. He answered yes/no questions through scans of his brain activity. He was able to get 5 out of 6 questions about him correct, and confirmed that he is not in pain. This changes the way we think about coma patients. io9
Honey Boo Boo resets the standard of what TLC calls TV: TLC has long not been “The Learning Channel”. Instead they’ve been the “let’s find the freakiest thing we can and put that on TV channel”. It started with giving people an excuse to stare at a little person on TV and went all the way to a guy married to three women, two of which are sisters. In between we saw the lives of twins conjoined at the head and something about Amish people going to NYC and acting like they’re on the Real World. But it was the corruption of a child, and the subsequent sister shows, that redefined what we consider appropriate TV. Honey Boo Boo is very likely an exaggerated and fake series. But children are not able to discern such differences as easily. If the series continues, I can assure you that child will be pregnant by 16. The capitalist in me applauds TLC for what they’ve accomplished. They deliver exactly what people want to see. The human in me is mortified that people will watch this, and that a network would air it.
NASA finally gets the public’s attention again: The story of NASA has been a sad one since Eugene Cernan last walked on the moon. A series of budget cuts and sad events have plagued the organization since they’re peak in the Apollo days. Fans of astronomy know serious progressions have occurred, but the public has largely ignored NASA since the first few shuttle missions. The end of the shuttle program doesn’t help matters either. But the Curiosity rover changed that this year. From the miracle landing, to Bobak Ferdowsi, and just the method in which they talk to the media and public, NASA has figured out how to get people excited about space again. Obama even noted “You guys are a little cooler than you used to be”. This is a big deal for NASA, which needs supporters outside of the science community to continue their amazing projects.
SpaceX: The first ever privately funded mission to space to deliver supplies. This means that capitalism is getting a foothold in space exploration. If the private sector can handle things the government used to do, then NASA can focus on newer projects. SpaceX has also provided a second career to many engineers that were no longer of use to NASA.
Lance Armstrong learns nothing, teaches nothing: When it’s all said and done, Lance Armstrong will still come out ahead. No amount of lawsuits and stripped titles can take away all of his celebrity, all the good he’s done for cancer, and all his wealth. We learned from Lance that giving in to your selfish id, and cheating your way to the top, can work. He raised the profile of cycling in the US. The man never had an incentive to admit defeat, and still does not. Did he cheat? Of course. Did everyone? Yep. Was it worth it? Yeah.
Revenge of the nerds: Though 2012 was an election year, there wasn’t much about the candidates worth noting. It went pretty much how many rational minds expected it to go. But the big transition was where the rational mind chose to get their coverage. I’d been following Nate Silver on Twitter since primary season, so I had a good idea of his methods and the odds of Obama winning the election. Traditional media ignored or even attacked Silver and others like him. But Nate Silver was vindicated on election night when he correctly predicted how each state would vote for president. In 2014, and especially 2016, the guys doing the regressions will have more respect.
Who is our biggest lender again? This was very much lost in the headlines but could be a huge story in 2013. China has been reducing their holdings of American Treasury securities for well over a year now. Though the numbers do fluctuate, they hold about $100 billion less now than they did a year ago. And Japan has been growing their holdings. At this pace Japan will easily become the largest holder of American debt in the early part of 2013. Most other countries, like Japan, are increasing their holdings of debt as China decreases. Planet Money
How K-Pop invaded the US: Oppan Gangnam Style. Not really since the 1960s has American music been so overwhelmed by the styles of another country. Back then it was the British, in 2012 it was the Koreans. This is largely thanks to Psy, the Gangnam Style YouTube sensation. You may think this is just a one-hit wonder but it may be the start of something much larger. Not only did Psy become an overnight sensation, but he did it without the traditional channels used to get there. Psy is a professional artist but mostly unknown in the US. To become a hit over here he would need a manager that can book gigs, and a promotion company to get him on radio. Instead, he just came in through YouTube. If it’s not K-Pop in 2012, it will be something else. YouTube and websites like it will continue to usurp traditional channels of achieving stardom. NPR
The rush to break news: Television producers seem to still be lost in the idea that you have to be the first to break the news. In the old days the newspaper had at least 24 hours to “break” news. Even radio had a few minutes to digest breaking news before going on air. With the 24 hour news cycle, Twitter, and declining TV new ratings, there’s some misunderstood notion that one has to be first to break news. When the Obamacare ruling came down almost every TV channel misreported the primary decision. CNN, and others immediately started piling on calling the decision a dramatic blow to the president. Of course they were wrong. They misread the ruling and all looked stupid. In today’s environment, being first is no longer the priority. Being right is considerably more important. And providing real analysis and reporting far more valuable. The Daily Beast
Did Petraeus betray us? The Petraeus affair was one of the more interesting scandals of the last few years. An insecure mistress harassed a Tampa socialite setting off an investigation that brought down the CIA director and War on Terror hero. It was innocent enough as scandals go, but all the hilarious details that unfolded were the stuff of history. Jill Kelley trying to invoke her diplomatic title, and and the Broadwell/Patraeus system of communication were among the best. But the real lesson is not even the director of the CIA can keep a secret from their spouse. Let’s just hope Hollywood makes a good version of this story before Lifetime is able to ruin it.
The end of the 20th century right: We got the first taste of this when Republicans actively tried to change they way we vote. Districts were redrawn to reduce the influence of minorities. They tried to put in voting rules that would make it more difficult for minorities and elderly to vote in key states. These were active attempts to fight a changing demographic in the US and they largely failed. When the presidential election was decided, the Republican party lost their identity. Any conservative party faces a time when they must let go of certain ideals in order to maintain some level of prominence. Republicans will slowly let go of certain issues like gay marriage and immigration in order to match their views on government with the changing social viewpoints of the country. The final blow to the current format of the Republican party happened this year.
TV on the Internet gets legitimate: Hulu has been a great service for a few years now. But it’s only been in 2012 that we’ve gotten something closer to truly watching TV online. Whereas Hulu and premium services from Apple and Amazon (and others) offer on-demand viewing, 2012 brought about legitimate streaming of events online. The Olympics provided fairly decent coverage of just about everything. ESPN provides great streaming services when connected to your TV account. And February gave Time Warner Cable customers streaming TV to their phone, tablet, or computer. This streaming of live and televised content is quite a significant breakthrough and in the case of TIme Warner came with some protest from the content providers. We can only hope that live streaming of more televised content (especially live TV) will continue into 2013.
As this list indicates, these were mostly positive developments in 2012. This occurred despite an economy that refused to fully recover, a dysfunctional government, and the continued success of TLC. One can only hope that 2013 builds upon most of these successes, and maybe our government does something useful.
Image: NASA Goddard Photo and Video