Scitech  Year in Review: Scitech

Technology and social justice

This year technology has taken new steps to redefinesocial justice. From JustHack’s effort to encourage a more inclusive environment for computer science hopefuls (“Coding for community, not corporations,” September 14, online) to the Centre for Gender Advocacy’s online map of places in Montreal where trans people have faced discrimination (“Mapping cissexism,” November 30, page 24). With the rise of social media, technology has become an increasingly important tool in social justice movements around the globe, like #STEM on twitter, drawing attention to marginalized voices in STEM (“#ILooklikeSTEM,” October 15, page 14). We still have many steps to take in fighting for social justice – and technology will play a pivotal part in that.

These movements have sought to create a diverse and inclusive environment for all science and technology lovers. As a society, we should seek to make the paths of science and technology as accessible as possible – events like JustHack, the research by Johns Hopkins University supporting individualized vaccines (“A movement towards individualized vaccines,” January 25, page 13), and creating apps combatting inaccessibility (“Using apps to combat inaccessibility,” September 1, page 14) are just the tip of an iceberg.

Science does not get a free pass from social justice efforts. The scientific community needs to look at how research can play into oppressive power structures. By working toward an anti-oppressive environment, we create opportunities for marginalized individualized to participate more in research and in changing the world.

Mental health and neuroscience

As this year’s Sci+Tech columnist Fernanda Pérez Gay Juárez, put it, our minds are more than simply the sum of our parts. Her column about mental health kicked off a key discusion. Over the course of this past year, Sci+Tech writers have discussed many mental health disorders and aspects of neuroscience, ranging from seasonal affective disorder (“Grappling with the ‘winter blues,’” November 30, page 22) to schizophrenia (“Mysteries in diagnosis,” March 21, page 19). Mental health’s research is a broad-based discipline and area of study that requires knowledge from many different fields, such as psychology, anatomy, physiology, and psychiatry.

Due to the complexity of neuroscience and mental health research as a whole, many individuals may try to oversimplify complex diseases like ALS, often missing key pieces of information – but not to fear, Pérez Gay Juárez’s column has deconstructed the disease and illuminated a potential path to a cure (“A step forward in ALS research,” February 1, page 15).

With regard to mental health, an important theme to keep in mind (pun intended) is the fight against the “work now play later” approach that many of us may take, especially when faced with mountains of work. As Pérez Gay Juárez has explained, this may do more harm than good, as our brains need time to relax, and our memories need a good night’s sleep in order to consolidate. This balance is something we should all aim for to take care of ourselves and our mental health.

Discoveries in Science

This year has been a great one for scientific discoveries in fields ranging from aerospace to renewable energy. The scientific community has revealed some significant findings that may be the foundations of big things to come in the upcoming years. One of the most recent of these discoveries is Google’s Deep Mind AI which managed to beat a professional player in the board game Go (“Google’s AI triumphs in the world of Go,” February 22, page 15), spelling new promises for artificial intelligence development. Additionally, Elon Musk’s company SpaceX successfully landed its first pilotless rocket (“Dawn of a new space age,” January 18, page 15), potentially creating a future for cheap space travel and goods transportation. New research for Lou Gehrig’s disease (“A step forward in ALS research,” February 1, page 15) and Alzheimer’s (“Ten more years for Alzheimers,” January 11, page 15) show new hope for diagnosis and treatment. And newly discovered species are feeling the influence of pop culture – harvestmen have been named Smeagol from Lord of the Rings, and sea slugs named after Khaleesi from Game of Thrones (“Nomenclature normalities,” February 1, page 16).

These discoveries also show us just how much work is left to do. Despite all our advances, large parts of the natural world remain unknown to us. Hopefully, if this year is any indication, we are on our way to new answers, and even more questions, about our world and our place in it.