Editor's note

Science is a methodical way to investigate the world around us and a way to organize and understand reality. This past year held some disheartening moments for me, as the The Conversation US science editor, when it seemed as though truth and facts were getting steamrolled in the public sphere. So in addition to the kinds of stories I’m always on the lookout for – about discoveries that surprise me or research that explains something new – I was happy to publish a number of articles in 2017 that made different cases for the value of science. By extension, they implicitly argue for the importance of trusting solid data and quantifiable truth. Here’s to “expert” not being a dirty word in 2018. Maggie Villiger

The year 2017 was also a challenging year for our environment and energy desk, where we scrambled to keep up with the Trump administration’s push to roll back regulations and boost fossil fuel use. But beyond Washington D.C., many researchers are proposing innovations for a sustainable future that don’t depend on action from the federal government. I’ve spotlighted five of those ideas here – everything from bio-based jet fuel to a vision for restoring the Rio Grande valley. Jennifer Weeks

Maggie Villiger

Science + Technology Editor

Jennifer Weeks

Environment + Energy Editor

Science + Technology

You can’t keep a good scientist down. Vlad Tchompalov on Unsplash

With science under siege in 2017, scientists regrouped and fought back: 5 essential reads

Maggie Villiger, The Conversation

President Trump's first year was a rough one for scientists and others who value truth and expertise. Many rallied to the cause, while others used research to make the case for the value of science.

Tracing the links between basic research and real-world applications

Benjamin F. Jones, Northwestern University; Mohammad Ahmadpoor, Northwestern University

A new study connects the dots between published science and patented innovations, mapping just how society benefits from basic scientific research.

Can March for Science participants advocate without losing the public's trust?

Emily Vraga, George Mason University

The research community tends to assume advocacy doesn't mix with objectivity. One study suggests there's room for scientists to make real-world recommendations without compromising their trusted status.

Defending science: How the art of rhetoric can help

Leah Ceccarelli, University of Washington

If you've only ever paired the idea of 'rhetoric' with 'empty,' think again. Rhetoricians of science have concrete techniques to share with researchers to help them communicate their scientific work.

When the federal budget funds scientific research, it's the economy that benefits

Christopher Keane, Washington State University

Research dollars don't stay locked up in academia and government labs. R&D collaborations with the private sector are common – and grow the innovation economy.

Who feels the pain of science research budget cuts?

Bruce Weinberg, The Ohio State University

What are research dollars actually spent on? Rather than looking at artifacts like publications and patents, a new initiative directly tracks the people and businesses that receive research funding.

Environment + Energy

Even pocket parks in cities (Duane Park in Lower Manhattan, pictured here) can shelter wildlife. Read below for ideas about urban biodiversity and other green innovations. Aude

Creating a sustainable future: 5 essential reads

Jennifer Weeks, The Conversation

Trump administration rollbacks dominated news about the environment in 2017 – but beyond Washington D.C., many researchers are developing innovative visions for a greener future.

Here's a better vision for the US-Mexico border: Make the Rio Grande grand again

Gabriel Diaz Montemayor, University of Texas at Austin

Instead of building a wall on the US-Mexico border, a landscape architect calls for restoring the Rio Grande and turning its course into an international park – an idea first proposed in the 1930s.

Jet fuel from sugarcane? It's not a flight of fancy

Deepak Kumar, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Stephen P. Long, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Vijay Singh, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Scientists have engineered sugarcane to increase its oil content and are developing renewable jet aircraft fuel from the oil. The engineered sugarcane could become a valuable energy crop.

Is a healthy environment a human right? Testing the idea in Appalachia

Nicholas F. Stump, West Virginia University

Are all people entitled to live in a clean and healthy environment? A legal scholar says yes, and argues for using this principle to address damage from polluting industries in Appalachia.

Micro solutions for a macro problem: How marine algae could help feed the world

William Moomaw, Tufts University; Asaf Tzachor, UCL

Marine microalgae are full of nutrients and can be raised indoors using much less land and water than meat or even plants. Could algae-based foods replace meat, eggs and milk on our tables?

Urban nature: What kinds of plants and wildlife flourish in cities?

Christopher Swan, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

In an urbanizing world, people increasingly are seeking out nature in cities. Research shows that diverse species of animals, plants and insects can thrive in areas that humans have altered.