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The Best American Science Writing 2006

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Together these twenty one articles on a wide range of today's most leading topics in science from D. I read this book because I wanted to see what kinds of stories my favorite person in the world Atul Gawande liked to read The answer is ones that are worse than the ones he writes There were some good gems in here namely the ones about literary Darwinism yawning and the bionic ear and Bolero but mostly underreported think pieces that frankly pale in comparison to Gawande's own work Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That'll Improve and/or Ruin Everything person in the world Atul Gawande liked to read The answer is ones that are worse than the ones he writes There were some good gems in here namely the ones about literary Darwinism yawning and the bionic ear and Bolero but mostly underreported think Discordia pieces that frankly Stage Mum pale in comparison to Gawande's own work

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Tific inuiry proving once again that good science writing is evidently plentiful American Scientist. Ended up being kind of a mixed bag The essays towards the beginning are a bit less compelling than the rest of the book Two essays stood out from the others Paul Bloom's examination of the cognitive roots of religion and Jack Hitt's essay on the controversy over who can claim to be real native americans Close behind was The Coming Death Shortage by Charles C Mann But only a couple essays got skipped over because it wasn't really interesting in the subject matter appropriately an essay on yawning Pretty good overall and I'll hold onto it just to re read the better essays Geometric Dimensioning And Tolerancing: Self Study Workbook proving once again that good science writing is evidently Moksha: Writings on Psychedelics & the Visionary Experience plentiful American Scientist. Ended up being kind of a mixed bag The essays towards the beginning are a bit less compelling than the rest of the book Two essays stood out from the others Paul Bloom's examination of the cognitive roots of religion and Jack Hitt's essay on the controversy over who can claim to be real native americans Close behind was The Coming Death Shortage by Charles C Mann But only a couple essays got skipped over because it wasn't really interesting in the subject matter appropriately an essay on yawning Pretty good overall and I'll hold onto it just to re read the better essays

Atul Gawande ↠ 9 summary

Ennis Overbye Jonathan Weiner and Richard Preston among others represent the full spectrum of scien. It's popular science writing to be sure; if you peruse the New York Times or Scientific American regularly then you may have already seen some of these articlesThe range is nice one subject that was completely new to me was the value of autopsies in medical diagnosis Despite all the new scanning technologies the best way to really know the cause of death is still to cut people up; it's not done nearly as often as it was 40 years but it's still very useful for finding diagnostic errors and understanding the causes of our mortality That's the argument; added to this is a graphic description of an actual autopsy that made me stop and ponder the slim margin of an error separating an active life from a de animated corpse Birthday popular science writing to be sure; if you Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That'll Improve and/or Ruin Everything peruse the New York Times or Scientific American regularly then you may have already seen some of these articlesThe range is nice one subject that was completely new to me was the value of autopsies in medical diagnosis Despite all the new scanning technologies the best way to really know the cause of death is still to cut Discordia people up; it's not done nearly as often as it was 40 years but it's still very useful for finding diagnostic errors and understanding the causes of our mortality That's the argument; added to this is a graphic description of an actual autopsy that made me stop and Stage Mum ponder the slim margin of an error separating an active life from a de animated corpse


10 thoughts on “The Best American Science Writing 2006

  1. says:

    Money and politics taint everythingA pearl of wisdomAbout a year ago I reviewed here on Goodreads The Best American Science Writing 2005 a marginally recommended read that includes unuestionable jewels such as Frank Wilczek's essay Whence the Force of F ma or Small Silences by Edward Hoagland a wonderfully lyrical piece about the beauty of nature Here I am reviewing the next issue in the set which presents the presumably best science essays from 2006 I like this set better because not only does it contain fewer meh pieces but mainly because it conveys a powerful and very scary message about the many ways science is manipulated Three essays in particular show the mechanisms of manipulation The best essay of the set The Tangle by Jonathan Weiner is about attempts to solve the mystery of a neurological disease that once afflicted people living on Guam An outsider in the field a botanist developed a hypothesis that the illness was a result of the Guam Chamorros eating bats that fed on cycad seeds The hypothesis likely because of its simplicity brought its author instant fame However it also resulted in government supplied research money disappearing from other research projects on related topics which in turn caused many other researchers to work on debunking the cycad bat hypothesis As of the essay's writing date they have largely succeededNeil Swidey's essay What Makes People Gay? is almost eually fascinating It presents the research on connection between genetics and sex orientation but what really stands out is the clear illustration of the role of advocacy groups in influencing the flow of research money and even in determining which research projects should be condemned before any work has been done Money and politics are at their ugliest againPolitics and specifically the politics of race is also the backdrop of Jack Hitt's Mighty White of You an essay that reflects on the theory about pre Clovis people in North America The abstract of the article states it bluntly these new theories have less to do with science than with a distressing and not so subtle racism What I probably like the most about the three essays is that their authors do not take sides in the argument first two are neutral than the third one Science should not take any sides One of the basic tenets of science is cultivating doubt Expressing doubts about currently prevailing societal beliefs and attitudes should be an important goal of scienceBriefly about three other essays that I like a lot H Allen Orr's Devolution about the so called intelligent design theories nicely debunks the arguments used by the debunkers of theory of evolution Paul Bloom's Is God an Accident? posits that religion may be a natural result of the way humans perceive the world The author talks about the dualism inherent in human understanding of ourselves and our world and it immediately reminded me of Nabokov's Invitation to a Beheading Finally the essay that could have easily been the best in the entire collection Richard Preston's Climbing the Redwoods about the world of redwood canopy the mysterious world over thirty stories above ground But the author completely spoils the fascinating topic by focusing on climbing the tallest trees and by his utterly insane fetish for numbers especially big numbers What a wasteThree stars


  2. says:

    Twenty one essays about science each essay on a completely different subject Some of the subjects are uite surprising There is an essay about a chess playing computer a cochlear implant to help a deaf person to hear music the physics of time travel a claim that the so called obesity epidemic isn't real the problems that may occur if longevity is extended further the subtle influence of racism on anthropology belief in religion as a conseuence of innate dualism and an essay that won't be boring but will nevertheless force you to yawn In one essay you can vicariously experience the incredible feeling of climbing 350 feet into a giant redwood canopy where your biggest fear might not be of falling but of getting lost You can learn why other species of trees don't survive in a redwood forest and the reason is not due to the choking off from resources like air moisture light and nutrientsEach essay is fascinating and well written You can pick this book up read a chapter put it down again and pick it up months later without fear of having lost your train of thought The sheer variety of essays is wonderful


  3. says:

    I read this book because I wanted to see what kinds of stories my favorite person in the world Atul Gawande liked to read The answer is ones that are worse than the ones he writes There were some good gems in here namely the ones about literary Darwinism yawning and the bionic ear and Bolero but mostly underreported think pieces that frankly pale in comparison to Gawande's own work


  4. says:

    One of the best of its kindAll the Best American books are good because they are collections of the best writing usually magazine writing done in the year indicated The series titles include Best American Science Writing Best American Science and Nature Writing Best American Essays Best American Sports Writing Best American Short Stories even Best American Sex Writing The essay choices are up to the person always an illustrious figure an expert who edits each volume For the year 2006 we have Dr Atul Gawande a famous surgeon and author of Complications A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science 2002 Previous editors of the BestScience series have been James Gleick 2000 Timothy Ferris 2001 Matt Ridley 2002 Oliver Sacks 2003 Dava Sobel 2004 and Alan Lightman 2005I have read all or part of the entire series beginning in 2000 and while every collection has been interesting even fascinating this year's collection is particularly good I say this because Gawande in keeping close to his area of expertise has chosen articles mainly in the fields of biology medicine computers and information theory and evolution and these happen to be fields that especially interest me The emphasis in this volume then is on the so called soft sciences rather than the hard ones although not exclusively so Moreover Gawande has managed to find essays that are especially well written I was a bit dazzled at the wordsmithing ability of some of the writers to say nothing about the fascinating and informative content of their essays In particular I want to point to Alan Weisman's Earth Without People; D T Max's The Literary Darwinists; Karen Wright's The Day Everything Died; Jack Hitt's Mighty White of You; and Paul Bloom's Is God an Accident as very impressiveOne of the reasons the essays are so good is that they first appeared in some of our best journals including Harper's The Atlantic Monthly Discover The New Yorker et al where they were scrupulously edited by some of the best editors working today A good editor is a godsend for a writer and a great editor can make the difference between a piece that is ordinary and one that is outstanding Anyone wanting to improve their writing might read these essays for that reason aloneNow just a few uick thoughts about some of the essaysAlan Weisman achieves an eerie sci fi mood in his Earth without People as he imagines how the planet might change if people suddenly disappeared His insights come partly from recalling what the planet was like before humans came upon the scene especially North America with its teeming mass of extinct large mammalsGardiner Harris and Anahad O'Connor point to the disconnect between scientific knowledge and the public's perception of what is likely true and what likely isn't in On Autism's Cause It's Parents vs Research It appears that there is almost no way that mercury in vaccines causes autism yet there remains a hard core of parents of autistic children who believe otherwise What I think this shows is that our personal experience a sampling of one is so persuasive that often we cannot put it aside regardless of the evidenceH Allen Orr demonstrates in his carefully composed essay Devolution that faith based intelligent design might well be a sign of human devolutionD T Max's The Literary Darwinists introduced me to a new slant on literary criticism clearly a natural progression in postmodern thought namely to subject literary works to examinations from Darwinian principles Particularly delicious is evolutionary psychology as applied to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice which begins with this irresistible first line It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wifeWhat struck me as most instructive in Karen Wright's The Day Everything Died which is about the Permian extinction and the controversy surrounding it is just how much difficult it is to study something that happened a uarter of a billion years ago than it is to study something the K T extinction that happened a mere 65 million years agoI absolutely loved Jack Hitt's witty satirical take on being Charlemagne's direct descendant he is and so are you as he muses on Kennewick man and some not so subtle racism among those touting pre Clovis humans in the AmericasBut my favorite piece in the book is Paul Bloom's Is God an Accident Having recently read Sam Harris' The End of Faith 2005 and other works I somehow felt in total understanding about why humans believe impossible or at least very unlikely things Clearly religion exists in all societies because it is adaptive and contributes to tribal cohesion which helps the tribe defeat other tribes in warfare etc However Bloom's essay broadened my understanding His argument is that religion is essentially a kind of hardwired dualism in our brains that came about because we have two simultaneous ways of perceiving the world one physical and the other social Our social perceptions result in a belief system based on minds that is what others may think and what may be possible in manipulating the content of minds vis a vis real world objects eg coming up with unicorns and holy fathers with bad tempers Conseuently it feels right for us to believe in things unseen unheard undemonstratedI also liked the last essay in the book Frans B M de Waal's short piece on why We're All Machiavellians a truth he learned from watching chimpanzees His asks why don't we just admit to our lust to power? It is so obvious Instead we and especially our politicians pretend we are public servants and it is other people who want powerIn short this is the most readable collection of science essays that I have read in recent years Dennis Littrell author of “The World Is Not as We Think It Is”


  5. says:

    It's popular science writing to be sure; if you peruse the New York Times or Scientific American regularly then you may have already seen some of these articlesThe range is nice one subject that was completely new to me was the value of autopsies in medical diagnosis Despite all the new scanning technologies the best way to really know the cause of death is still to cut people up; it's not done nearly as often as it was 40 years but it's still very useful for finding diagnostic errors and understanding the causes of our mortality That's the argument; added to this is a graphic description of an actual autopsy that made me stop and ponder the slim margin of an error separating an active life from a de animated corpse


  6. says:

    Really cool concept I happened to pick up this edition at a used book sale My favorite essaysMy Bionic uest for Boléro Follows someone who lost their hearing and their ability to appreciate their favorite piece of music then slowly gained it back as they moved to better and better hearing aids The Curse of Akkad Explores the possible role of climate change eg drought in the fall of ancient civilizations The Coming Death Shortage Speculates on possible conseuences for society as life expectancy continues to increase Mighty White of You Discusses controversial evidence of Europeans who possibly reached the Americas before anyone crossed Beringea evidence mostly gathered by white people


  7. says:

    The book did not disappoint Every single one of the articles was entertaining and thought provoking Your Move by Tom Mueller was about a computer program that plays chess that often uses strategies that surprise even its programmers Alan Weisman's article entitled Earth Without People reminds one of how fleeting human existence is in the grand scheme of things and how uickly it could be erased W Wyatt Gibbs provides a much needed counter point to the obesity epidemic that many claim is sweeping the nation with his article Obesity An Epic Overblown Neil Swidey examines the nature versus nurture argument in regards to homosexuality in his article What Makes People Gay Though it seems natural for me to assume that homosexuality is genetic I also felt that if it was a genetic trait then it wouldn't be beneficial to survival because homosexuals could not reproduce Swidley examines this uestion in depthIn The Coming Death Shortage Charles C Mann discuss the potential problems that lengthening the average life of a human being will cause H Allen Orr provides a scientific critiue of Intelligent Design that is sorely needed in today's society Unfortunately he does make the point that as 80% of Americans believe that God guided our creation and progression that having come this far on faith alone does Creationism really need ID? Paul Bloom provides us with a window into why we assume a designer with his article Is God an Accident? Bloom posits that our belief in God is related to the belief that our mind is separate from our body which he feels is innate within children Robert Provine's article on Yawning was fun and definitely yawn invoking not from boredom but from yawn contagion and I also really enjoyed Richard Preston's description of the little world contained in the canopies of Redwood TreesRemarkably enough I left uite a few articles out of the above review The rest of the articles were also good however the ones mentioned above were ones that really got me thinking I have several good leads on what books I will read next and I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in some good science reading This book provides a nice breadth that I think includes something for everyone I believe that The Best American Science Writing is a series I will have to make sure to read each year


  8. says:

    A analogy with many strong ideas yet uite boring for the best American science writing But science isn't that interesting anyways Some of the ideas are uite appealing to me such as what life would be like if humans did not exist or what makes people gay etc Many of the ideas are very controversial I may not be very religious but the heading Is God an Accident just struck me hard Interesting yet maybe offensive The writers talk about their beliefs and ideas from their own experiences It is interesting to hear their biases I myself had many ideas about these topics But I still can't help for start falling asleep every morning in the subway as i open the book Preferably for people who enjoys science


  9. says:

    Ended up being kind of a mixed bag The essays towards the beginning are a bit less compelling than the rest of the book Two essays stood out from the others Paul Bloom's examination of the cognitive roots of religion and Jack Hitt's essay on the controversy over who can claim to be real native americans Close behind was The Coming Death Shortage by Charles C Mann But only a couple essays got skipped over because it wasn't really interesting in the subject matter appropriately an essay on yawning Pretty good overall and I'll hold onto it just to re read the better essays


  10. says:

    I love this series of essay collections and buy them every year I prefer them to the similar Best Science and Nature Writing series which organizes the essays in alphabetical order by the author's name while this one in the volumes I've read actually organize by subject matter so that one essay flows nicely into the nextI even ended up buying two separate books based on essays collected here A World Without People by Allan Wiseman became the best seller The World Without Us and the essay by Elizabeth Kolbert part of a trilogy of essays that I had previously read in The New Yorker became Field Notes From a Catastrophe