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The year in science

Artwork shows the
hypothetical track of the
elusive Higgs boson in a
particle detector.

The year-in-review season is in full swing - which makes it a fine time to assess how we did with our predictions for the top science stories of 2007.

The year's top two picks - political science and particle physics - turned out to be much in the news, though not always for the reasons we expected.

In particle physics, setbacks for Europe's super-duper-collider have turned one of science's most out-there quests into a real horse race. And the scientific world experienced plenty of political twists and turns, including a dramatic upswing in climate change awareness (expected) and a thrilling new twist in stem-cell research (unexpected).

Looking ahead in political science
Next year could get even more interesting: Just in the past week, a new movement called "Science Debate 2008" has been gaining momentum.

Science Debate's backers are calling for a public forum in which the presidential candidates share their views on environmental issues, medicine and health, and science and technology policy.

Such a debate could provide new grist for the campaign mill, as evidenced by the few times when science-related issues have peeped out: for example, what rising GOP star Mike Huckabee really thinks about evolution, or what the Republican hopefuls have to say about the climate cover-up, or how Barack Obama would shift funding from the space program to educational programs, or what specifics Hillary Clinton has in mind when she talks about a "renewed commitment to scientific integrity and innovation." The candidates would get a chance to expand upon their energy policy statements or even their remarks about UFOs.

It'll be interesting to see how developments in stem cell research and environmental/energy technologies affect the next year's politicking. Will scientific advances - such as continuing progress with reprogrammed cells - make the political choices easier, or harder? Which of the candidates are best qualified when it comes to science policy? What questions would you ask them to clarify your own choices? Feel free to leave your suggestions as comments below.

Looking ahead in particle physics
Meanwhile, Europe's Large Hadron Collider may have missed its originally scheduled November startup, but the chances still look good that it will begin scientific operations for real by mid-2008. Among its targets: the Higgs boson, the only particle predicted by physics' Standard Model that has not yet been found; a deeper understanding of the universe's matter-antimatter balance; and evidence of extra spatial dimensions - beyond the three we know about.

America's Fermilab is also rumored to be closing in on the elusive Higgs boson, which is thought to be responsible for the property of particle mass. A little competition is a good thing, for physicists as well as politicians, so it'll be interesting to see whether the scientists at Fermilab can steal a little of the subatomic thunder from the Large Hadron Collider's debut.

When you throw in all the speculation about the nature of neutrinos and dark matter, you'd be justified in keeping particle physics toward the top of the list of scientific mysteries to be tackled during 2008.

What other topics would you add? Synthetic life, for instance? Again, feel free to add your suggestions below - but keep in mind that we'll be doing a separate end-of-the-year roundup for space science later this month. In the weeks ahead, I'll pass along the links to any "top science" lists that come my way - including the annual roundups from Science, Wired, Scientific American, Archaeology and more.