You should be aware by now that President Elect of the United States (PEOTUS) was selected as Time Magazine’s 2016 Person of the Year. A number of news stories and interviews dedicated to this topic have aired or been written since the announcement earlier this week, however, the names of those making the short list is worth mentioning.
For starters, let’s take a look at the shortlist of candidates for 2016:
- Simone Biles – U.S. gymnast and 2016 Olympics gold medals winner
- Hillary Clinton – 2016 Democratic party nominee for U.S. President, former U.S. Secretary of State, former U.S. Senator from New York, former First Lady of the United States, etc.
- CRISPR Scientists – developed technology to edit DNA
- Recep Tayyip Erdoğan – president of Turkey
- Nigel Farage – Head of the United Kingdom’s Independence Party
- The Flint Whistleblowers – Local residents, along with civil-engineering professor Marc Edwards and local pediatrician Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha who blew the whistle on an environmental crisis
- Beyoncé Knowles – singer-songwriter, actress, and social justice activist
- Narendra Modi – Prime Minister of India
- Vladimir Putin – President of Russia
- Donald Trump – 2016 Republican Party nominee for U.S. President, real estate mogul, television show personality, etc.
- Mark Zuckerberg – CEO of FaceBook and philanthropist
The criterion behind the Person of the Year Award is: “The person or persons who most affected the news and our lives, for good or ill, and embodied what was important about the year.” A lot of news is bad news and a lot of people who make bad news are very powerful people. TIME’s editors aren’t immune to that reality in noting that Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin were also named Person of the Year.
I’d like to call attention to the men and women behind three business and STEM related topics that helped shape the news in 2016: the CRISPR Scientists, the Flint Whistleblowers, and Mark Zuckerberg.
CRISPR Scientists: These scientists have developed a groundbreaking new technology that can edit DNA. “Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats” or CRISPR is the description of the genetic basis of the method. Cas9 is the name of a protein that makes it work. CRISPR-Cas9 makes it easy, cheap, and fast to move genes around—any genes, in any living thing, from bacteria to people.
The technique has the potential to transform science and the human experience, as it could be used to find and remove mutations responsible for incurable diseases. CRISPR was first discussed on this blog in the post, Defeating the Zika Virus Will Require Unorthodox Methodologies and Treatments, back in February 2016. Researchers at three American universities were considering the use of the CRISPR technique to potentially force a genetic change to spread through an Aedes aegypti – the type of mosquito blamed for spreading Zika – population as they reproduce.
While the CRISPR-Cas9 gene snipping technology holds many promise, it is not without its critics who call into question the use of genetic technology to eradicate a species.
The Flint Whistleblowers: Local residents, along with civil-engineering professor Marc Edwards and local pediatrician, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, blew the whistle on lead-poisoned water in Flint, Michigan, drawing national attention (including those of some candidates on the 2016 presidential campaign trail) to an environmental crisis that still has yet to be fully resolved.
The City of Flint, Michigan, a community of just under 100,000, has had its share of problems over the years. Once the home of General Motors (GM) largest manufacturing plant, the city began to experience economic decline during the 1980s as the company downsized its operations. According to CNN, the state of Michigan took over Flint’s finances in 2011 after an audit projected a $25 million deficit. Even though Flint’s water supply fund was $9 million in the red, officials were using some of this money to cover shortfalls in its general fund.
The city emerged from its economic woes in April 2015 when the water fund was declared solvent and the remaining deficit was eliminated by an emergency loan. To reduce the water fund shortfall, the city switched water sources in 2014.
Here’s a short summary of what happened according to Jayde Lovell of Scientific America: After Flint, MI switched from purchasing water via Detroit to sourcing locally from the Flint River, residents began noticing a changes in water quality. One resident—Lee Anne Walters—suspected the water might be toxic, and had her water tested for lead. She brought samples to Marc Edwards, an environmental engineer at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and a world-renowned expert on water treatment. He found lead levels in her tap water at 13,200 parts per billion (ppb); the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency actionable limit is 15 ppb. She subsequently discovered her three-year-old son had blood lead levels so high that he was considered lead poisoned. In fact, researchers estimated 4 percent of all Flint’s children five and under had elevated blood lead–a percentage almost double that seen before the switch to the Flint River water. [Ref 1]
The work of Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha also contributed to bringing this water crisis to a head. The daughter of Iraqi-American scientists who fled Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship said her training and instincts compelled her to investigate and hold bureaucrats’ feet to the fire when they denied the results of her research that proved children were being poisoned.
State officials ignored residents’ angry insistence that their brown, improperly treated water was toxic after the city switched from the Detroit system’s Lake Huron water to Flint River water in April 2014 — but they couldn’t ignore Hanna-Attisha. [Ref 2]
Mark Zuckerberg: Making the news is nothing new for Mark Elliot Zuckerberg – American computer programmer, internet entrepreneur, and philanthropist. Zuckerberg is also chairman, chief executive officer, and co-founder of social networking website FaceBook. His accomplishment for making the 2016 Person of the Year short list is that FaceBook surpassed the 1 billion mobile daily users mark giving the social media site an unprecedented global reach.
This is indeed good news for FaceBook, especially when analysts and critics were questioning if the firm and other social media companies are struggling to attract growth beyond current levels? It should also be noted that Zuckerberg was Time’s 2010 Person of the Year.
The achievements of other persons on this short list are notable and should not be overlooked. However, as I stated earlier, the focus of this post identifies those persons of interest to business and STEM.
- Q&A: What Really Happened to the Water in Flint, Michigan?, by Jade Lovell for Scientific America, March 2, 2016, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/q-a-what-really-happened-to-the-water-in-flint-michigan/
- Mona Hanna-Attisha: Resolve exposed Flint water crisis, by Karen Bouffard for The Detroit News, November 18, 2016, http://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/michigan/michiganians-of-year/2016/11/17/mona-hanna-attisha-resolve-exposed-flint-water-crisis/94049860/