New Year predictions, 2010 edition

I’ve had a tradition throughout the blog of making annual predictions at the beginning of each year. In 2006 and 2007, I did pretty well: upward of 50 percent accurate each time.

But last year, I got busy during the winter break and didn’t manage to make new predictions for 2009.

It didn’t help that my 2008 percentage looked pretty miserable. In view of my past success, I wrote that I was “going to have to pick stranger predictions”. I was no slouch on that score – I figure only two or three had come true by the end of 2008. Who would want to return at the end of the year and review that disgraceful performance? Not me!

But then a magical thing happened: In 2009 a whole bunch of them came true! Including the far-out ones. So now I can hold my head up high. Just look at the 2008-2009 review:

  • 10. A dramatic development in the Sahelanthropus story. Well, 2009 was the year the rumors came out to play. We got the whole soap opera of the missing femur, not to mention the published suggestion that Toumaï's bones had been found and reburied.
  • 9. Both major-party candidates for the 2008 U.S. Presidential election will accept evolution. True, and true. This was one of the rare ones I got right by the end of 2008.
  • 8. This year's featured piece of anatomy: the femur. The featured piece of anatomy for the past two years has clearly been the pelvis. Oh, there've been a couple of important femora, but nothing like the significance of Ardi's pelvis combined with the pelvis from Busidiya, and to these I think it's fair to add the CT reconstruction of Tabun 1.
  • 7. No new hobbits, at least, not from Flores. That was an easy one -- and notice that in this case my two-year span has handicapped me -- another year might have refuted the "it won't happen" predictions. We've had an abundance of description, but no
  • 6. An incisive example of introgression in East Asia. Nothing there, at least not yet.
  • 5. A viral insertion in the human genome will tell us about a disease of the australopithecines. I'm still hoping this one will come true, but nothing yet.
  • 4. Another language gene joins FoxP2. No word on whether Neandertals have the human version. We got one this fall, although we can't yet read all the details. No word on whether Neandertals have the human version.
  • 3. Homo habilis: an endangered species? Far from sunk, Homo habilis may be headed for a golden age. Or not.
  • 2. This year, something new from three A's: A. afarensis. A. africanus. Atapuerca. There was no significant A. africanus announcement in the last two years, although who knows in the next year what might surface? From A. afarensis, we had Woranso-Mille this fall. The Atapuerca craniosynostosis case was newsworthy enough to make the year's biggest science stories list. The really new Atapuerca news, of course, was the 2008 publication of the Sima del Elefante remains, at 1.2 million years old.
  • 1. Oh, and one more A. Ardipithecus. Now, the beauty of a two-year span is that the most unlikely-sounding thing might just happen. And boy, did it ever.
  • BONUS: A big, big year for Neandertals. I mean, besides the election. I'll claim this one, for both 2008 and 2009. 2010 will be another. Neandertals are chic.

I’m claiming 7 out of 10 – remember, according to my strange way of scoring, the BONUS prediction counts as extra credit. Now, I had two years on this set, and some of them were pretty easy, so I make no claims. If I’d predicted a Neandertal dredged out of the North Sea, well that would have been something. Still, you don’t see anybody else out there calling down lightning from the sky, so take it or leave it.

Now, what about 2010? One of the really appealing aspects of making predictions is that I can write about the most outlandish things happening, like significant discoveries of the earliest hominins. So when people actually do discover early hominins, it makes it a lot harder to think of too-good-to-be-believed ideas for predictions.

But I’m not easily stopped by a failure of imagination. So here is the list for 2010. As usual, I’ve reserved the top five for the unlikeliest. That’s not to say you should put any money on the bottom five. But they’re, shall we say, more anthropological id than superego.

I think I’ll go with cryptic sentences – it’s more crystal ball than Oracle of Delphi that way.

  • 10. Get ready for the Ardipithecus backlash.
  • 9. Make way for expensive tissue.
  • 8. 1000 Genomes won't find much of the "missing heritability."
  • 7. A half million years ago, in East Africa....
  • 6. Neandertals get even more colorful. And no, the current pigment story doesn't count.
  • 5. The headline is "most complete".
  • 4. Two words that you don't see together much: Pleistocene pharmacopeia.
  • 3. Two point eight is the date.
  • 2. A. anamensis gets a lot more interesting.
  • 1. And you thought Toba was cataclysmic.
  • BONUS: Did A. afarensis really make those?

Just in case you’re wondering about the crypticity – these are separate predictions.

Maybe next year I’ll get started sooner and manage Nostradamus quatrains. Although, I don’t want to get involved with debates over nonsense words. Ooh, ooh! I could always claim that the nonsense word that just happens to resemble a new site name was a real prediction. You know, like “Hister” and Hitler.

Oh, I’ll probably be too embarrassed to review these at the end of the year anyway…