I’m not sure what’s gained by having the public vote on what they consider to be the “science breakthrough of the year” except to see what people consider to be important. But the voters in this contest aren’t actually laypeople, because the voting is taking place on a Science magazine website, whose readers must surely be almost all scientists. (Click on the screenshot below to go to the voting site.)
Actually, there will be two selections: one from the editors and writers, and the other by the general public:
Science’s reporters and editors are debating that question as they home in on the 2019 Breakthrough of the Year. Their selection, along with nine runners-up, will be announced when the last issue of the year goes online on 19 December.
You can get in on the action! Pick your favorite breakthrough from the candidates below by Monday, 2 December. Then check back after noon on Tuesday, 3 December, when we will start a second round of voting with your four top picks. We will announce the winner—the People’s Choice—along with Science’s choice on 19 December.
Well, you can vote, but the public has already spoken pretty loudly. Archaic humans are way in the lead, and I grant that the discovery and genetic legacy of the Denisovans (you can read each “breakthrough” by going to the site and clicking “read more”) is interesting. But eight of the twelve candidate breakthroughs—save the imaging of a black hole, the supposed achievement of quantum supremacy, the discovery of a planetoid that looks like two fused potatoes, and a minute-by-minute reconstruction of what the dinosaur-killing asteroid did—have to do with humans. We are a solipsistic species.
Regardless, clicking on each of the advances does give you a mini-education on what the news was in science this year. What I’m not really keen on is pitting these things against each other, as they compare advances having practical promise for human well being with things that are intellectually astounding but of no consequences for our everyday lives. That’s reflected in the “sciences sections” of papers like the New York Times, which are heavily overloaded with human-related stuff.
It would be a magazine that ran this contest, for scientists themselves know that the way to sort out the important advances are within fields, not across them. Those are called the Nobel Prizes.
If you think they omitted some good candidates, put yours below, or go over and vote for the existing ones. As for me, well, I couldn’t be arsed to vote.