The Year's Most Controversial Science Discoveries

2009 saw plenty of scientific discoveries — 44-million-year-old hominid Ardi, water on the moon — but some of what we learned wasn't as awesome as we'd hoped. LiveScience takes a look at the news that caused scientific controversy this year.


Boys need more attention. Really? Recently published research suggests that as girls are helped to achieve academic and social success, boys are getting left behind. The result: American boys are leaving school with lower literacy rates, lower grades, and higher dropout rates. They also have higher suicide, arrest and premature death rates. Hmm. Maybe this is all related to another study, which showed that spankings lower IQ scores?

Dinosaurs wiped out by algae. While many scientists believe an asteroid impact killed off the dinosaurs, Clemson University researchers announced on October 19th at the Geological Society of America that they believed toxins from algae were to blame for not just killing off the great beasts of 65 million years ago, but five other species. Their scientific peers aren't buying the theory, claiming the evidence just isn't there.

Fetuses have memories in the womb. As if we needed more fuel for the abortion debate, scientists co-authored a study published in Child Development that says fetuses just 30 weeks of age have short-term memory. This discovery was claimed after a series of "fetuses became habituated to a low sound that makes a vibration, and so weren't startled after repeated stimulation. Fetuses younger than 30 weeks never showed signs of habituation, while those older could remember the stimulation for longer and longer stints with age."

Who's the oldest of them all? While Ardi was pronounced the official oldest link to us humans, another fossil was found in the meantime that may change our evolutionary tree. Ida is a 47-million year old primate fossil (Ardi is 4.4 million years old) that has scientists debating whether or not her remains are proof of an even earlier precursor of humans.

Climategate. The University of East Anglia computer systems are hacked, leaking thousands of private (and pretty incriminating) emails and files from prominent climate scientists. The emails seem to show that climate scientists, such as Phil Jones, were purposely keeping research papers whose conclusions argued against the connection between global warming and human activity out of an important climate panel report. Oops!