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The Best American Science Writing 2006
by Atul Gawande (Editor), Jesse Cohen (Series Editor)
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Atul Gawande has selected the primo science stories which live up to his watermark of quality writing. In my opinion, the best stories include the tale of one journalist's struggle with deafness and his journey for the perfect bionic ear. Another piece takes the reader into the tree tops of some of the tallest titans on the planet, the coastal redwoods. Exploring this behemoths, one writer describes the sprawling vistas and intricate canopy ecosystems hiding in the heights. David Quammen invites readers on another adventure, this time in pursuit of the most recent development in cloning science. Recommended for anyone who needs a science story every now and then to get them through the year.
A great collection, mixing magazine and newspaper writing by both writers and scientists. I particularly liked Robert Provine's piece on his yawning research, Michael Chorost on his cochlear implant, and excellent overviews of the autism/vaccination controversy and the tangled state of the "gay gene" search.
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Together these twenty-one articles on a wide range of today's most leading topics in science, from Dennis Overbye, Jonathan Weiner, and Richard Preston, among others, represent the full spectrum of scientific inquiry, proving once again that "good science writing is evidently plentiful" (American Scientist).
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Tom Mueller starts the volume with a description of computer chess programs. The most interesting parts are where he describes the programmer's challenges.
Michael Chorost writes a wonderful piece about searching for new hearing aid technologies that will allow him to hear Boléro again.
Alan Weisman delivers a short piece about what nature was like in various locations before anthropogenic change--and what it would be like again in centuries or decades after human abandonment.
Elizabeth Kolbert teaches us about climate models and the way they may teach us to re-interpret both past and future.
Dennis Overbye discusses whether time travel is theoretically valid.
Gibbs proposes a re-examination of the obesity epidemic.
Michael Specter writes a great piece on the avian flu, the history of pandemics, and the dangers and costs of preventing future epidemics.
Harris and O'Connor write a rather tepid article on the differences between scientists and anti-immunization activists with respect to the causes of autism.
Swidey reviews the literature on how gay people and straight people differ and tries to convey some of the complex interactions in the omnipresent nature-nurture debate.
Weiner writes about the uncertain etiology and colorful scientific history of lytico-bodig, including off-beat theories and maverick researchers. Wright studies another young maverick trying to propose a reason for the Permian extinction.
Quammen tells the light but fascinating story of the cloning lab at Texas A&M and the projects they have been drawn into, including helping endangered species, cloning dead pets, and producing profitable animals such as large-antlered deer for private hunters.
Mann writes a piece about the possibility of eliminating death through medical science. Although it seems to me that this goal is forever twenty years away, his points about the social consequences of making longer lives possible are already relevant today, with our increasing and aging population and our growing income gap.
Orr explains exactly how confused the "intelligent design" community is, and Max describes how a weak form of evolutionary theory has been born in a corner of literary theory.
Hitt contributes a long article about the theories of early settlers of the North American continent, and connects the elaborate stories constructed about the limited information available from the evidence to eurocentric tendencies and beliefs.
Bloom discusses the question of where supernatural ideas come from.
Provine, best known for his work on laughter, gives us some insight another everyday phenomenon: the yawn.
Chang talks about looking for large objects in the Kuiper belt.
Preston explores the ecosystem lifted far above our heads in the redwood forests of the west coast.
De Waal concludes with a short piece about our "Machiavellian" social similarities to other primates.
Highly recommended. ( )