As the year ends, Nature highlights individuals who rose to prominence — or fell from grace.
Rebellion. Tragedy. Breakthrough. Crime. These are just a few of the major events that had an impact on science this year. Revolutionary. Whistle-blower. Mechanic. Crook. These are just a few of the people who had central roles in those events.
Behind every twist and turn in science is a person — perhaps brilliant, selfless and inspirational, or fickle, ambitious and egotistical. Each has their own story to tell. Collectively, those stories are woven into the fascinating fabric of scientific research that this publication probes and reports. So in this issue, our last in 2011, Nature has chosen to tell the stories of ten people who made a major difference to our — and, we hope, your — world this year (see page 437).
They have varied tales. Some demonstrate the sheer excitement of discovery: John Rogers, whose work is making electronics into wearable accessories, and Dario Autiero, whose team's claim that neutrinos can travel faster than light will be remembered for its glorious stretching of the imagination, even if the result doesn't ultimately hold up. And although the existence of the Higgs boson hangs in statistical limbo, the sheer buzz of its (near) discovery is enough for us to recognize Mike Lamont — the engineer who, perhaps more than anyone else, has kept particles whizzing around the Large Hadron Collider, and data churning out.
The role of hero is taken by Essam Sharaf, the engineer who temporarily took charge of the government in Egypt, whereas the villain is Diederik Stapel, a psychologist who perpetrated scientific fraud on a breathtaking scale — and in doing so underlined the difficulty of identifying wrongdoing in research. To represent those who stood by science, we chose Lisa Jackson, whose efforts to promote evidence-based environmental regulation as head of the US Environmental Protection Agency have met with hostility in the nation's Republican-led Congress.
There are challengers: Tatsuhiko Kodama, who damned the Japanese government's studies of the radioactive fallout from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and Rosie Redfield, who is using her blog to document her own attempts to replicate contentious claims about 'arsenic-based life'. And then there are those who are facing challenges of the future: Sara Seager, who, in a year punctuated by discoveries of distant exoplanets, is designing instruments to identify Earth-like worlds closer to our Solar System; and Danica May Camacho, one of the babies chosen to represent the world's population reaching a staggering 7 billion, and to raise awareness of the challenges to survival and sustainability that this milestone poses.
We can't pretend to have identified the only science newsmakers of this year, or even the most important. Nature, after all, is staffed by people with passions and foibles, and the selections reflect their subjective take on events. How did we decide on the final ten? We asked for suggestions from editors who deal with research manuscripts, as well as reporters and editors who put together Nature's News and Comment sections. We made long lists and short lists. We made them again. We argued in meetings. We discarded some obvious candidates and replaced them with figures whose stories had not been so widely told. We made a last-minute substitution two days before the section went to press.
Whatever you think of our ten, we hope that their stories provoke, remind, inspire and entertain. We also welcome feedback: we invite readers to nominate their own newsmakers of the year, and to vote in our online poll (go.nature.com/1w1xtk). We hope to repeat this exercise in years to come, and are already looking forward to the characters that we — and you — will meet in 2012.