Science in 2006

/ by Edit Staff /

Looking Back And Facing Forward.

From the DEC/JAN 2006 issue of Seed:

science2006.jpg Credit: Manik Ratan

In these pages we look back at the most remarkable people, events and ideas of the past year: Everything that couldn’t be contained in the laboratory; the science that changed the world in 2005. We’re not merely writing a retrospective. In the empirical tradition, we’ve sifted through the events of the past in hopes of divining a bit of the future. As we peer over the edge of 2006, and beyond, uncertainty is the rule. But we can make a few predictions.

As American researchers bring forth the first cancer vaccine, the first stem cell therapies, and inch toward the first quantum computers, the public face of science in the U.S. will, absurdly, continue to be tied up in the debacle that is intelligent design.

Governments everywhere will funnel money into the Thai Centers for Disease Control to prepare for avian flu, while stockpiling a range of different treatments and vaccines—some of which may not be entirely effective.

Countries around the world may rely on Russia to fulfill their dreams of spaceflight, as NASA struggles to meet its commitments to the International Space Station while phasing out the space shuttle.
China will forge ahead in spaceflight and biotech research, using science to try to make the most populous nation in the world both environmentally and economically sustainable.

Climate change will produce increasingly severe weather patterns, resulting in the first Hurricane Delta, severe droughts and desertification in the poorest parts of the world. This will open up the opportunity for a new class of environmental politics, which disregards partisan rhetoric—with new alliances being forged across the entire geopolitical spectrum.

In the United States, the new Supreme Court will begin to wrestle with the science-laden legal contests of the 21st century, from brain fingerprinting to genetic engineering.

Agribusiness will boom across the globe as the proliferation of GMOs consolidates the economic power of the industry. The companies’ greed may compound famine in developing nations, or their benevolence may help to end it. In America, agricultural practices could exacerbate public health hazards, as antibiotics in the food supply contribute to drug-resistance in bacteria.

Developing nations are turning to science as a hold on the future. China and India, ramping up their efforts in science, are destined to be the world’s new R&D laboratories. The national science academies of the G8 nations and the Network of African Science Academies are calling for stronger support of science in Africa; 2006 may be the year in which Western nations fully engage African leaders, providing long-term economic assistance.

New AIDS drugs will be tested. The FDA will approve an at-home HIV test, revolutionizing prevention efforts and mitigating the stigma attached to the disease. Western nations will ultimately decide whether HIV will remain a more manageable illness in rich countries—and a disastrous epidemic in poor ones.

Embryonic stem cell research will advance, paving the way for miracle cures for some diseases, while having little impact on others. Despite new methods of obtaining stem cells, which will sway some detractors, pro-life groups will continue to find objections to this research. Meanwhile, South Korea will stand at the forefront of regenerative medicine.

Within the sciences, new and resurgent ideas are incubating. No one can yet predict their impact. The coming year will see new theories of consciousness gain popularity. Biologists will attempt to create life in the laboratory. Anti-string theorists will push to unseat a field that was once, itself, the anti-establishment of physics.

These are the trends we see as we begin 2006. Some of our predictions will prove false. Others won’t. But the beautiful thing about the future is at once the beautiful thing about science: It keeps us asking the right questions.

The Editors

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Originally published January 16, 2006

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