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The Best American Science Writing 2008 (2008)

by Sylvia Nasar (Editor), Jesse Cohen (Series Editor)

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For me, a little too much medical emphasis. And way too much on the pharmaceutical industry (are these really science stories?).

I didn't believe for a moment that writer-psychiatrist Daniel Carlat began shilling for drug companies for anything but monetary motives (OK, at least he has reformed and confessed.) And there was another, from NYT, about drug companies paying censured (not permitted to practice, at least for a while) doctors to conduct trials and do the shilling thing. And yet another on "Psychiatrists, Children and the Drug Industry's Role." Not to be confused with Jerome Groopman on whether children can have bipolar disorder.

Note also Tina Rosenberg's more faceted "When is a pain doctor a drug pusher?" Of course a familiar profile from Oliver Sachs on a damaged musician with a very short-term memory.

Two profiles of people with code mutations that cause hideous diseases. 1) NYer's Richard Preston on Lesch-Nyhan disease, which compels its victims to chew off their fingertips and lips. 2) Amy Harmon makes a compelling, heart-breaking case for more research on the Huntington's gene but profiling a woman who decides as 23 to be tested for the gene and learns she probably has only 12 more years before symptoms set in. But, you know, anyone that reads science pages or popular magazines even occasionally knows about Huntington's and the detection already (a colleague did a story 20-odd years ago on this when Nancy Wexler, mentioned in passing in Harmon's story, was debating whether to be tested herself).

There's a Silicon Valley start-up that aims to offer individuals complete de-coding for $1,000. Any while Margaret Talbot's story ("Duped") on a possible foolproof lie detector doesn't rely on genetic analysis, it does stray into the medical category more than social science. Don't you want more details on how it works and how the old ones do?

I'm a bit surprised Sylvia Nasar, the guest editor, chose so many related to medicine or diagnosis since she isn't a medical doctor. (You expect it whenever a doctor is the editor.) Not that there's anything terrible about any of these pieces--the writing and organization is fine--but it means that, while there are a couple of environmental ones, all the other areas of science were shortchanged--physics, geology, math, botany, evolutionary psych, neuroscience, agriculture, etc.

The one ag piece has a lot of bloopers, imho. (What about slash and burn planting? Not really viable to go back to the mythical pre-Green Revolution time when it was all sustainable and people in, say, India had a 25-year life span. And some food exporting countries have been at it for a very long time. Start with rice.)

While interesting and practical, "Supply, Demand and Kidney Transplants" isn't really a science story either. It's a proposal for public policy and not surprisingly appeared in Policy Review. The ones about the uses of the pharmaceutical industry are essentially policy issues too.

For the most news you can use: "The Older and Wiser Hypothesis," "Evoloved for Cancer" and WSJ on NIH's false alarm re hormone replacement therapy.

This was the year Al Gore won the Nobel Prize, so there's a familiar piece by him. Not that there is anything wrong with the two environmental stories re China but anyone that has lived in the vicinity has heard so many of these. Isn't there room for environmental disaster stories from other parts of the developing world? ( )
  Periodista | Jan 4, 2012 |
Some interesting articles, a lot that struck me as Reader's Digest level 'science'. Doctors are being paid by drug reps! Inappropriate medications are being prescribed for children! There's a rare genetic disease that makes people bite off their fingers! Hmmph. Al Gore's discussion of global warming was interesting, primarily because it's a lot more nuanced than the usual reporting on the subject - we can't destroy the world, but we _can_ make it a lot less pleasant for humans to live in. And some of the genetic discussions were also interesting - commercial gene-sequencing, and global seed storage. Overall, though, the book was a lot less interesting than I thought it would be - there was not one reporting of a real discovery, nor anything in the hard sciences. In the intro the editor mentioned that medicine was the major focus that year - but personally I'd have found some hard science to replace at least one of the three doctors-doing-bad-stuff RD-level stories. I don't think I'll bother to seek out others in the series - though if some have other editors they might be worth my while. ( )
  jjmcgaffey | Jul 9, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061340413, Paperback)

Edited by Sylvia Nasar, bestselling author of A Beautiful Mind and former economics correspondent for the New York Times, The Best American Science Writing 2008 brings together the premiere science writing of the year. Distinguished by the foremost voices and publications—among them Pulitzer Prize-winner Amy Harmon, Nobel Prize–winner Al Gore, and award-winning and bestselling author Oliver Sacks—this anthology is a comprehensive overview of our most advanced and most relevant scientific inquiries.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:57:15 -0400)

A latest collection in the annual series features a selection of the year's most significant writings on key scientific developments in genetics, physics, cognition, evolutionary theory, astronomy, and other fields and is complemented by an accessible overview of the year's most important discoveries, research, and events.… (more)

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