Biggest Science Stories: Bloggers' Picks for 2008

December 30, 2008

Need a science fix fast? A vast and ever growing constellation of brainy bloggers is here to serve.

Unlike traditional media outlets, blogs allow personal insight, opinions, and voices. Science bloggers put a human gloss on both major developments and smaller stories that would be otherwise lost in the shuffle.

National Geographic News asked six Web celebs (as ranked by the blog search engine Technorati) to write up the most important, most overlooked, and weirdest science stories of 2008. Here are their responses:

Anonymous of Afarensis

Most Important:
For my money, the most important [anthropology story] is the rediscovery of the pygmy tarsier. Tarsiers are very important in terms of understanding the evolution of primates. Over and above that, the fact that the pygmy tarsier has, for the moment, escaped extinction gives conservationists another chance at saving them.

Most Overlooked:
Children are often overlooked in the archaeological record. Frequently, their contribution to the creation of the archaeological record is painted in negative terms—as destroyers rather than creators. Neanderthals have, all to often, been portrayed negatively as well. The most overlooked anthropology story of the year combines both of these issues and looks at the impact of Neanderthal children on the archaeological record.

Anthropologists have spent a lot of time studying the medical knowledge and practices of other cultures around the world. The weirdest news relating to anthropology concerns the medical practices of an unlikely group. A group of chimpanzees, at Uganda's Kibale National Park, self-medicate by eating dirt and vegetation, which, when combined, have antimalarial properties.

Brian Switek of Laelaps

Most Important:
Controversy erupted in the scientific community this year when paleontologist Spencer Lucas was accused of "claim jumping" other scientists—i.e., pushing a new name into the scientific literature first even though he knew others were working on the same material. The debacle surrounded an ancient group of armored crocodile relatives called aetosaurs, which gave the argument the name Aetogate. After months of arguments, the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology stepped in to resolve the issue, exonerating Lucas but calling for more stringent scientific practices to prevent this from happening again.

Most Overlooked:
Jurassic Park made Velociraptor a household name, but few people probably heard that a new species of the agile killer was announced earlier this year. Named in honor of paleontologist Halszka Osmolska (who passed away this year), Velociraptor osmolskae represents a new type of the famous predator.

In the film The Princess Bride, the characters were besieged by "Rodents of Unusual Size." Truth is stranger than fiction, though, because early this year scientists reported the fossil remains of a Pleistocene rodent from Uruguay called Josephoartigasia monesi which would have weighed about a ton. They would have been less threatening than their fictional relatives, though: Their teeth were better suited to fruit and soft water plants.


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