As 2017 winds down, it's hard not to focus on the political disagreements, natural disasters, mass shootings and sex abuse allegations that have been gripping the nation since January. But 2017 was also a year of good news, such as medical breakthroughs, accomplishments in wildlife protection and education.
On the natural front, the total solar eclipse was the highlight of the year. Millions of Americans looked skyward as the sun dimmed for a few moments on Aug. 21 -- the few who were lucky enough to make it to the path of totality were able to witness a complete blackout.
Unlike the hurricanes, fires and earthquakes of the year, no one was killed and no buildings were damaged during this natural event. Traffic was the worst experience to be had. The best experience was witnessing a rare celestial event surrounded by hundreds or thousands of other community members.
If the solar eclipse didn't bring them joy, scientists surely had some news to be excited about in 2017. Prevention magazine mentions innovations in drill-free tooth repair and the elimination of disease-causing DNA mutations as among the top 20 medical developments of the year.
Other highlights of the list include a 2017 study at Cedar's Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, which found that patients who watched uplifting videos through virtual reality goggles had a 24 percent reduction in pain. The hospital's research director, Brian Spiegel, says the virtual reality may be "the beginning of a whole new medical field" where doctors could prescribe specific virtual reality experiences as a form of therapy.
Meanwhile in the field of genetics, the FDA approved CAR T-cell therapy for leukemia patients who don't respond to chemotherapy. The treatment works by genetically modifying immune cells to kill cancer cells, resulting in a drug that is specifically tailored for each patient.
According to National Geographic, animals also benefited in 2017. Vietnam pledged to move its bears in bear-bile farms to sanctuaries, Instagram began tagging wildlife selfies with notifications that the animals seen in the images might not be safe and some animals used in entertainment were retired.
China ended its internal ivory trade, which was believed to be largely responsible for the continued poaching of animals after the 1990 international ban on ivory. The ban on bringing big-game wildlife trophies from Africa into the U.S. was also halted temporarily after being lifted in November. The decision to lift or keep the ban is still under review.
Education had its ups and downs in 2017, but high points included a federal statistics review reported by Education Week: incidents of school violence were 82 percent lower in 2015 than in 1992. Additionally, the number of students saying they feel unsafe at school also dropped.
The Washington Post reports that high-school dropout rates also fell for all ethnicities. Education researcher Kirabo Jackson said the higher retention rates correlate with rising test scores, which is often underreported.
More states are relying less heavily on test scores in teacher evaluations, partly due to studies that suggest test scores don't always provide a complete picture of students' performance in school.
The world stage remained a contentious place in 2017, but progress was made on the ISIS occupation of Syria and Iraq. Bloomberg reports that Syrian and Russian officials are ready for the U.S. to retreat from the war zones, though U.S. military officials still think it's important they stay to protect against a possible resurgence.
Sources: Prevention, National Geographic, Education Weekly, The Washington Post, Bloomberg / Featured Image: NPS Photo/Grand Canyon National Park / Embedded Images: Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Samantha Thorpe/U.S. Navy, Senior Airman Nesha Humes/U.S. Air Force