TRENDING SCIENCE: 2021’s 10 most influential people in science

Leading academic journal ‘Nature’ publishes its annual list of 10 people who positively or negatively impacted science.

The prestigious journal released a list that “explores key developments in science … and some of the people who played important parts in these milestones.” The journal adds that even though it’s “not an award or a ranking,” it highlights “key events in science through the compelling stories of those involved.”

Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, co-founded the advocacy group People’s Vaccine Alliance to get world leaders on board in the fight for vaccine equity. She played a key part when the United States (US) backed waiving patents on COVID vaccines.

Friederike Otto, a climate researcher at London’s Grantham Institute - Climate Change and the Environment, helped to set up the World Weather Attribution group to analyse whether climate change is to blame for extreme heat, cold, downpours, drought and wildfires. Until recently, scientists found it difficult to confidently answer if climate change played a major role in specific extreme events. Not anymore.

Zhang Rongqiao is an engineer who led China’s first successful mission to Mars. When the Zhurong rover landed on 15 May, China became only the second nation after the US to place a rover on Mars. China’s deep-space missions are ready to take a giant leap.

Timnit Gebru, a researcher who studies AI ethics, made headlines when she was fired by Google in 2020 for voicing her concerns about anti-black discrimination in AI. In December 2021, she launched the Distributed AI Research Institute to study AI independently of giant tech companies. The institute will develop AI models and applications that don’t rely on the big tech companies’ massive data sets and computing power.

Tulio de Oliveira, a bioinformatician and Director of South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform, is helping to discover SARS-CoV-2 variants. One of these is Omicron, the troubling variant that’s quickly spreading around the world. Now permanently living near Cape Town, South Africa, he works to control epidemics in the African continent and the Global South.

John Jumper, a researcher at London-based DeepMind, released AlphaFold, a tool that uses AI to predict protein structures with amazing accuracy. By containing almost every protein in the human body, this freely accessible AI-powered database promises to radically transform science.

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz is a Philippine indigenous leader who also served for 6 years as the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples. Thanks to her tireless efforts spread over several decades, indigenous peoples gained international recognition for safeguarding biodiversity and the climate.

Guillaume Cabanac, a computer scientist at the University of Toulouse, France, investigated a series of strange phrases found in thousands of journal articles. One example is “counterfeit consciousness” in place of the much more common “artificial intelligence”. Turns out they were fake. He created a website to keep track of over 400 such phrases in more than 2 000 papers to date. Over 120 manuscripts have been withdrawn.

Meaghan Kall, an epidemiologist and civil servant in the United Kingdom, uses Twitter to explain in simple terms the UK Health Security Agency’s many coronavirus briefings. The 6 000 or so tweets are helping to quash the public’s concerns and confusion over topics such as SARS-CoV-2 variants and the country’s coronavirus data.

Janet Woodcock became Acting Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in early 2021. While acting head, the FDA ignored an external panel’s recommendation and made the controversial decision to approve the drug aducanumab in treating Alzheimer’s disease. More controversy followed when the White House announced it would soon administer COVID-19 booster vaccines. The FDA was surprised by the move, but endorsed the plan.

last modification: 2022-01-06 17:15:01
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