Some columns make sense of the news of the day, some offer lasting wisdom, and the best do both. Our regular contributors wrote many in the third category in 2016, while keeping up with an action-packed news cycle. Since January, implementation of the Iran nuclear agreement began, tensions rose between the United States and Russia, and Earth experienced the hottest first 10 months of any year on record. Scientists made rapid advances in artificial intelligence and synthetic biology. And the Western world experienced major political upheavals, with Britons voting to leave the European Union and the United States choosing a president-elect who says he doesn’t believe expert consensus from either scientists or the intelligence community.
Below are 10 of our year’s best columns. If you still want more from our contributors, fear not: three of them also published excellent new books in 2016. Siegfried S. Hecker edited Doomed to Cooperate: How American and Russian Scientists Joined Forces to Avert Some of the Greatest Post-Cold War Nuclear Dangers, a two-volume history told by Russian and American scientists. Hugh Gusterson wrote Drone: Remote Control Warfare, which Foreign Affairs called a “thoughtful examination of the dilemmas this new weapon poses.” And Laura H. Kahn wrote One Health and the Politics of Antimicrobial Resistance, about a rising threat to human health everywhere.
Now, the columns:
Nuclear Brexit by Hugh Gusterson
The vote for Britain to leave the EU may lead to nuclear disarmament and less global power for England.
Tackling near and far AI threats at once by Seth Baum
Artificial intelligence experts debate the greater of two kinds of risk, but some of the solutions to both are the same.
Who will want artificially intelligent weapons? ISIS, democracies, or autocracies? by Michael C. Horowitz
If you’re a dictator who can’t trust your own people in the military, you can still trust a machine to do your dirty work.
What it really means to fight climate change like a war by Dawn Stover
Environmental activists and political leaders have called to fight climate change as though we were fighting a war. But doing so calls for more than a massive deployment of industrial technology. It calls for actual personal sacrifice, just like during World War II.
Can we remain food secure amid climate change? by Laura H. Kahn
As we work to arrest global warming, we must also mitigate the food security problems it will cause.
US-Russian rift threatens science ties that keep us safe by Siegfried S. Hecker
For two decades, Russian and American nuclear scientists cooperated to successfully avoid catastrophe. Can they do it again?
Can the US-Russia plutonium disposition agreement be saved? by Pavel Podvig
As it turns out, no, it couldn’t be saved. Podvig’s piece, published in April, still offers one of the most lucid explanations on why an important agreement on disposing of weapon-grade plutonium fell apart.
When officials charged with protecting the public act based on politics rather than science, they undermine trust and endanger citizens.
When neuroscience leads to neuroweapons by Perry World House
Advances in cognitive neuroscience have dangerous implications. Governments should try to curb the spread of arms that target the central nervous system.
Trump said he’d tear up the Iran nuclear deal. Now what? by Ariane Tabatabai
Civil servants and US allies have a crucial role to play in ensuring the survival of a historic nuclear agreement.