21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
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I look forward to reading and reviewing this fine series every year. Science journalists have a harder time finding places to publish these days, hard science is less available, and the articles are getting fluffier. That's not really OK with me but it is what it is - and it reflects the scientific literacy of most US readers and is thus inevitable. Among the gems in this year's selections are the following:
*One of my favorites - "What Broke My Father's Heart" by Butler: Good article about end of life issues - that can be less like a battle and more like a massacre. There's nothing like the profit motive to keep people from being allowed to die in peace.
*One of my favorites - "Hot Air" by Homans: The "dumbing down" of science has infected our local TV weathermen. They enjoy a large respect factor from the public, sometimes being looked at as science ambassadors in their communities. Unfortunately, they may not know much science outside their immediate field - short-term prediction of weather - and have been known to misrepresent climate change issues.
"The Singularity" by Zimmer: Why Artificial Intelligence will not replace the human brain - but there are certainly technologies that might enhance it. Zimmer is a great science writer and does justice to this large subject.
"BP's Deep Secrets" by Whitty: In depth study of the long term environmental impacts of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill and much about the physiology of the deep.
"The Estrogen Dilemma" by Gorney: Hormone replacement therapy may carry a few risks but the symptoms of menopause can be tough to deal with. Good example of why epidemiological studies are so hard to interpret. The variables and intricacies are endless.
"Cary in the Sky With Diamonds" by Beauchamp and Balaban: A couple of psychiatrists in Beverly Hills in the late fifties had long sessions with their famous patients starting with little blue pills - an adjunct to their psychotherapy. "Look" magazine gave a big thumbs up to the new wonder drug and Cary Grant swore LSD made him a new man.
"The Longest Home Run Ever" by Brenkus: The Physics of the game. Mickey Mantle hit the longest home run on record in 1953 - 565 feet. In neurotic detail our author calculates how far the ideal batter could hit the ideal pitch under ideal circumstances.
*My favorite - "Nature's Spoils" by Burkhard Bilger: A delightful romp through an alternative lifestyle as you rediscover the symbiotic relationship between humankind and bacteria. The author takes us from "urban squatters" who are not above dumpster diving to homesteaders living on communes who prefer raw milk and roadkill. Be prepared to "read through" some of the earthier parts of this article while our author drives home the idea that "Modern hygiene has prevented countless colds, fevers, and other ailments, but its central premise is hopelessly outdated. The human body isn't besieged: it's saturated - infused with microbial life at every level."
*My least favorite - "The Mess He Made" by Rosenwald: The office a**hole used to be just a jerk but nowadays he has a psychiatric diagnosis. Likewise, in this article, the author tries to make his pathological messiness into something more than laziness and unwillingness to change bad habits. I can't imagine what this is doing in a collection of science essays. Another article or two like this one and I'd have had to downgrade the book's rating.
"Professor Tracks Injuries With Aim of Prevention" by Schwarz: "Fred Mueller has almost singlehandedly run the National Center For Catastrophic Injury Research at the University of North Carolina for 30 years, logging and analyzing more than 1,000 fatal, paralytic, or other ghastly injuries in sports from peewees to the pros. His work has repeatedly improved safety for young athletes by identifying patterns that lead to changes in rules, field dimensions, and more."
"The Trouble With Scientists" by Blum: Scientists have historically been loath to engage the general public. They have even, at times, discriminated against certain of their colleagues (Carl Sagan, for example) who have tried to make science more available. That is changing and the author praises those scientists who blog, speak, or otherwise engage the general public - a public that is a bit antiscience these days and certainly needs to be more attuned to the scientific method that helped bring humanity out of the dark ages.
*One of my favorites - "The Data Trail" by Folger - Dave Bertelsen has been hiking in the Sonora desert for nearly 30 years and taking notes - as a hobby. After a talk by climatologist Michael Crimmins in Tuscon, Bertelsen approached him and said, "I have a big data set - I don't know if you'd be interested." Crimmins and his wife, an ecologist, were blown away by his data. His mile-by-mile notes are now being used by scientists at the University of Tuscon to study how global warming has changed the desert.
"Earth on Fire" by Ohlson: People have reported fires in coal beds for thousands of years. Ever since the industrial revolution, numbers of smoldering coal beds have increased dramatically around the world. The coal bed fire was so bad in (now ghosttown) Centralia, Pennsylvania that Congress gave Pennsylvania $42 million to relocate all its citizens.
"A Deadly Misdiagnosis" by Specter: "While hardly a threat in the West, tuberculosis is still a killer in the developing world." A new test is available to expedite diagnosis but it might not be used in India where the disease is a huge problem. Doctors in India make so much of their money using ineffective methods of diagnosis and treatment, they'd rather keep the status quo.
That's 14 out of 21 - I think you get the idea. This is a great read.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
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Skloot is the author of a fascinating book about Henrietta Lacks, whose cancer became an immortal cell line. That book showed her strengths (telling personal stories and depicting the human dimension of science) and her area of comfort (health and the life sciences). Unfortunately, Skloot stays in her comfort zone as editor of this installment in what is usually an excellent series. Although the title refers to an unqualified "Science," the contents have an overwhelming slant toward health and the life science. There is virtually nothing here about the physical sciences.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
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technological science-themed subjects.
The 2011 version of the Best American Science Writing started out great for me with the introduction by Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and her father, Floyd, who co-edited. It was interesting to learn that they both came to science writing from entirely different perspectives and pathways. Their take on "what makes good science writing" is that it, "presents information clearly and accessibly while also telling stories that show readers how science impacts them, why it's essential to life and culture, why they should care, and why they should learn about it." I agree. Whether an individual enjoys the book's excellently written selections will likely depend on his or her interest in the subjects, but are worth reading just the same. With such a wide range of topics and tones, I found myself, at times, crying (Katy Butler's What Broke My Father's Heart "WBMFH") and other times feeling bored to tears (Mark Bowden's The Enemy Within). My favorites include: WBMFH, which tackles the issue of persons receiving unnecessary medical procedures that, though able to prolong a life, may do so at huge mental and physical costs; The Singularity, the prospect of possibly being able to upload the human brain; The Estrogen Dilemma, how the effects of taking estrogen depend on what time in her life she begins taking it and Deadly Misdiagnoses, problems that come from the misdiagnosis of TB.
Other subjects are: biological, folks on fermentation diets, Japanese get gut bacteria from sushi; biomechanical, man tracks sports injuries in order to increase sports safety; environmental, weather forecasters as global warming skeptics, the hazardousness of the BP oil spill and coal mine fires, guy collects data along nature path that benefits researchers; ethical, concerns about the NIH director's religiosity; mathematical, the theoretical distance limit of a home run, terrorist attack data fits a mathematical pattern; medical, mother of child afflicted with MD fights for research funding; psychological, confessions of a hoarder, scientists' resistance to blogging, perpetrators of cruelty to animals are likely to commit other crimes [seems like a no-brainer], use of LSD among Hollywood elite and a resurgence of research; and technological, the insidiousness of the Conficker worm, a robotic seal that provides comfort for the elderly. In addition, the About the Contributors section is always interesting. In summary, science writing on a wide variety of subjects is well-worth the read. Also good: Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, Even Silence Has an End by Ingrid Betancourt and The Two Kinds of Decay by Sarah Manguso.
Karen L. Paley
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Science mixed with the personal--it's great. My favorite so far is Katy Butler's essay, "What Broke My Father's Heart." I plan to use it the next opportunity I have to teach creative nonfiction.
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I liked the width of topics though I did feel there was a larger number of 'big data' inspired essays. This series has allowed me, someone who is interested in keeping abreast of latest issues in the world of science, to pick up just one book to read all the essays on topics ranging from LSD to model generation for fighting insurgencies, in one place.
The quality of the essays range from mildly boring to very entertaining and regardless of the writing style employed by the individual authors, i can confidently say i learnt something new in each chapter.
Well worth the money and time.