Vote for the Breakthrough of the Year

  • #1
Ygggdrasil
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[Edit, Dec 22] Science selected cosmic convergence (observation of the collision of two neutron stars) as their Breakthrough of the Year. The winner of the people's choice was gene therapy success (successful clinical trial of using gene therapy to treat childhood neuromuscular disease):
http://vis.sciencemag.org/breakthrough2017/

[Edit, Dec 4] Vote for the finalists for Breakthrough of the Year: http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/12/finalists-are-vote-people-s-choice-breakthrough-year

Science
Magazine is holding its annual vote for the people's choice for Breakthrough of the Year, which will accompany their own choice. Voting is open until Dec 3. You can vote here: http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/11/choose-your-breakthrough-year

The choices are:
  • Fixing tiny mutations (using CRISPR to edit DNA and RNA)
  • Human origins pushed back (discovery of a ~300,000 year old Homo sapiens skull in Morocco)
  • A drug for many cancers (FDA approval of a new cancer immunotherapy drug)
  • Gene therapy success (successful clinical trial to treat childhood neuromuscual disease)
  • Biology preprints take off (increased use of prepublication servers similar to arXiv in biology)
  • Artificial intelligence masters poker (two artificial intelligence programs were able to beat professional poker players)
  • Oldest ice core (scientists drilled a 2.7-million-year-old ice core from Antarctica)
  • Cosmic convergence (observation of the collision of two neutron stars)
  • A new great ape (identification of a new species of orangutan in Sumatra)
  • Pint-sized neutrino detector (A detector the size of a milk jug observed neutrinos)
  • Cassini's grand finale (the Cassini spacecraft ends its 13-year mission by plunging into Saturn)
  • Life at the atomic level (using cryo-electron microscopy to visualize the atomic structures of important biomolecules)
What is your choice for the scientific breakthrough of 2017? Did the editors at Science not list your favorite scientific discovery?
 
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Answers and Replies

  • #2
Bystander
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New great ape.
 
  • #3
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I'm torn between

  • Fixing tiny mutations
  • A drug for many cancers
  • Gene therapy success
 
  • #4
PAllen
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Just too tough to pick just one!
 
  • #5
Dr. Courtney
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I think it undermines the scientific process to try and pick a most important breakthrough in the year it occurs.

It usually takes a lot longer than a year to adequately assess the long term consequences of scientific results: new theories need experimental validation, new experiments need replication and review by the broader community, promising drugs and therapies need to be proven in broader clinical settings and their side effects and unintended consequences need to be understood, etc. In a decade, we'll have much improved perspective and a lot more data on these purported breakthroughs than we do now.

In 2017, it would make more sense to discuss the most important breakthroughs of 2007 and 1997.
 
  • #6
Ygggdrasil
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My choice would either be for "a drug for many cancers" (FDA approval of CAR-T cancer immunotherapy, in which doctors genetically engineer a cancer patient's immune cells to fight their tumor, discussed on PF here) or gene therapy success (successful preliminary clinical trials on using gene therapy to treat childhood neuromuscular disease, discussed on PF here). Both are definitely the culmination of many decades of work (e.g. people were first conceiving of the idea of CAR-T therapies in the 1980s and researchers have been working to perfect gene therapy for many decades, especially after some high profile failures in the 1990s).
 
  • #7
donpacino
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Artificial intelligence masters poker
Do you have a link for this? Does it include facial analysis?
 
  • #8
Buzz Bloom
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I voted for "A drug for many cancers" because it seems to me to be a very promising major advance in cancer treatments, and very likely to be definitely the most significant advance in the field of medicine for 2017.
My second choice was "Cosmic convergence". I find that to be the most significant advance in the field of physics for 2017.
My choice between these two was based on my bias that medicine was more important than physics
 
  • #9
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  • #10
BillTre
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I chose the neutron star collision/grav. wave/telescope event.
Its a first of a new and important kind of observation (gravitational waves combined with optical observations).
To me, the ability to compare gravitational wave and optical observations, is a whole new way to look at things (observe; gather data), in a basic way.

There lots of really good biology choices I like, but (to me) they do not seem to be such a basic advance.
 
  • #11
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I kind of agree with @Dr. Courtney but I think you still can make some partial judgment at this level.
My first choice would definitely be the new drug for many cancers. Its true that as a way to give people with cancer more hope, this is not going much further than what we already have, but as a theoretical development, this fundamentally changes something in our understanding of cancer and may lead to greater theoretical discoveries that may as well result in a giant leap in the way physicians treat cancer. I mean, that giant leap is good, but why can't we be happy about great theoretical developments in medicine the same way we become happy about great theoretical developments in theoretical physics?! Specially that this seems to be a greater development for medicine than anything I've seen in recent years for theoretical physics.

My second choice would be the A.I. poker player. Although, to be fair, it wouldn't need a poker face, but it also doesn't read other people's tells too! Or maybe it does? That would be amazing!
 
  • #12
Demystifier
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I voted for "Biology preprints take off".
 
  • #13
Dr. Courtney
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I often tell my students when they compete in science fairs and similar events that science fairs are like beauty contests - they are not completely objective. Once a project reaches a certain level of accomplishment in properly following the scientific method and doing something novel and interesting, there are not really objective comparisons, and one also needs to consider how to appeal to the subjective biases of the judges.

The same is true here. No one knows for sure which of the purported breakthroughs will stand the test of time as relating to correctness or importance or any possible objective metric. But just as we all have our favorite sports teams and may have our favorites in a beauty contest, we can certainly have favorites in terms of scientific accomplishments.

I've been following bioRXiv for several years now, and while I'd like to be able to get more excited about it, I just can't. All of the papers I've co-authored that might be suitable for bioRXiv can/have been posted to arXiv under a Medical Physics or Quantitative Biology category, so bioRXiv does not seem to offer anything new other than new rules, limitations, restrictions, and uncertainty about its future (is it truly archival?), and uncertainty about the process and possible delays. One limitation that I'm not a fan of is the inability to post revised versions after print publication. If an error is discovered in a paper, I'd like to fix it, even if that error is as simple as a mislabeled figure. I also like the flexibility of arXiv to post papers _after_ publication. Sometimes I forget to post papers before they are published, sometimes I prefer for there not to be copies floating around that do not account for reviewer suggestions, and sometimes I just prefer to wait and post a group of papers together. arXiv allows this, bioRXiv does not.

bioRXiv also seems to have a strong preference for experimental results over hypotheses, theories, review papers, and commentaries on other papers. This paper (https://arxiv.org/abs/1501.07158 ) is a combination of a review paper on magnetoreception in fish combined with a more complete and clear articulation of mechanistic hypotheses. I'm not sure how or if it would fit. This paper (https://arxiv.org/abs/1306.5366 ) points out misleading information published by the NOAA. This paper (https://arxiv.org/abs/1306.5114 ) describes a hypothesis that nutrient loading is contributing to increased red snapper production in the Gulf of Mexico. This paper (https://arxiv.org/abs/1104.5216 ) points out a number of errors in weight-length parameters at FishBase.org. This paper (https://arxiv.org/abs/1102.1642 ) was a comment on an error we discovered in a paper published in the journal, Neurosurgery. This paper (https://arxiv.org/abs/0812.4757 ) was a combination review and hypothesis paper relating to a thoracic mechanism of traumatic brain injury from blast pressure waves. In no way can it be considered a new result, because the hypothesis is credited to another scientist years before. All we really did was summarize most of the supporting evidence that had already been published, articulate some things clearly, and describe an experiment for testing the hypothesis. This is my most highly cited paper in any field. I don't see how most of these biology papers would fit at bioRXiv, though posting at arXiv has proved useful.

I guess I'm also a little gun shy after becoming enthusiastic about Nature Precedings as a venue for Biology preprints and posting several papers there only to have it cease accepting submissions in 2012.
 
  • #14
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I often tell my students when they compete in science fairs and similar events that science fairs are like beauty contests - they are not completely objective. Once a project reaches a certain level of accomplishment in properly following the scientific method and doing something novel and interesting, there are not really objective comparisons, and one also needs to consider how to appeal to the subjective biases of the judges.
Does anyone confuse this as anything other than a fun popular poll? I mean the winner doesn't receive more funding right? So what's the harm?
 
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  • #15
Ygggdrasil
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My first choice would definitely be the new drug for many cancers. Its true that as a way to give people with cancer more hope, this is not going much further than what we already have, but as a theoretical development, this fundamentally changes something in our understanding of cancer and may lead to greater theoretical discoveries that may as well result in a giant leap in the way physicians treat cancer. I mean, that giant leap is good, but why can't we be happy about great theoretical developments in medicine the same way we become happy about great theoretical developments in theoretical physics?! Specially that this seems to be a greater development for medicine than anything I've seen in recent years for theoretical physics.
The new treatments for cancer are not just theoretical! Two CAR-T cell therapies were just approved by the FDA this year to treat different types of blood cancer and they are now being prescribed by doctors for patients with those types of cancer:
https://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm574058.htm
https://www.cancer.gov/news-events/cancer-currents-blog/2017/yescarta-fda-lymphoma

These developments in CAR-T cell therapies continue a long line of work on harnessing the body's immune system to fight cancer. I would not be surprised if the work on cancer immunotherapy (both the CAR-T cell therapies as well as the checkpoint blockade therapies developed earlier) won the Nobel Prize one day. Cancer immunotherapy is one of the hottest areas of biomedical research right now, so we will likely continue to see many developments in this area.
 
  • #16
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I'm trying to find info about "cosmic convergence" but google isn't helping any... never mind I added the word science and got hits ;-)
 
  • #17
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  • #18
QuantumQuest
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I voted for "A drug for many cancers" but I'll definitely agree to Dr.Courtney
...promising drugs and therapies need to be proven in broader clinical settings and their side effects and unintended consequences need to be understood...
 
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  • #19
donpacino
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  • #20
Apple_Mango
What is life at an atomic level? I don't understand what it means.
 
  • #21
Ygggdrasil
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What is life at an atomic level? I don't understand what it means.
It refers to the use of a technique called cryo-electron microscopy to visualize important biological molecules at atomic resolution. Three scientists who pioneered the invention of the technique were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry this year.

I have updated the first post to provide a short description of each of the nominees.
 
  • #22
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I voted for cancer drugs. It's about time we start to win the fight...
 
  • #23
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Science Magazine is holding its annual vote for the people's choice for Breakthrough of the Year, which will accompany their own choice. Voting is open until Dec 3. You can vote here: http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/11/choose-your-breakthrough-year

The choices are:
  • Fixing tiny mutations (using CRISPR to edit DNA and RNA)
  • Human origins pushed back (discovery of a ~300,000 year old Homo sapiens skull in Morocco)
  • A drug for many cancers (FDA approval of a new cancer immunotherapy drug)
  • Gene therapy success (successful clinical trial to treat childhood neuromuscual disease)
  • Biology preprints take off (increased use of prepublication servers similar to arXiv in biology)
  • Artificial intelligence masters poker (two artificial intelligence programs were able to beat professional poker players)
  • Oldest ice core (scientists drilled a 2.7-million-year-old ice core from Antarctica)
  • Cosmic convergence (observation of the collision of two neutron stars)
  • A new great ape (identification of a new species of orangutan in Sumatra)
  • Pint-sized neutrino detector (A detector the size of a milk jug observed neutrinos)
  • Cassini's grand finale (the Cassini spacecraft ends its 13-year mission by plunging into Saturn)
  • Life at the atomic level (using cryo-electron microscopy to visualize the atomic structures of important biomolecules)
What is your choice for the scientific breakthrough of 2017? Did the editors at Science not list your favorite scientific discovery?
I think it might have been a cool idea to post a poll on PF directly, but anyway...

I am choosing between Life at atomic level and Cosmic convergence.
 
  • #25
Ygggdrasil
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The four finalists are up for vote at the Science website: http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/12/finalists-are-vote-people-s-choice-breakthrough-year

The finalists are:
A drug for many cancers
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a drug to treat advanced solid tumors with a specific genetic defect, no matter where in the body the cancer arose. The drug reflects a long-awaited shift from treating cancers based on their origins to one grounded in tumor biology.

Gene therapy success
A treatment for a neuromuscular disease that usually kills infants before they turn 2 scored a dramatic initial success in a small clinical trial. The trial demonstrated the power of a new vector in ferrying genetic cargo across the blood-brain barrier.

Pint-sized neutrino detector
Physicists used a detector the size of a milk jug to observe neutrinos pinging off atomic nuclei in a way never seen before. The achievement confirms a 40-year-old prediction and opens the way for portable detectors of these elusive particles, which could carry clues to new physics.

Fixing tiny mutations

Biologists made a big advance in editing DNA and RNA, developing techniques to transform one nucleotide base into another at a precise point in a genome. A team in China used a version of the technique to correct a point mutation in a human embryo.
Voting is open until Sunday, Dec 10 and the winner will be announced in the Dec 21 issue of Science
 

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