- Series: Best American Science Writing
- Paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: Harper Perennial; 2007 ed. edition (September 18, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0061345776
- ISBN-13: 978-0061345777
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 18 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,143,739 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Best American Science Writing 2007 2007 ed. Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Edited by New York Times science writer Kolata, this volume celebrates writing that captures the excitement of scientific discovery and also its human consequences. Tyler Cabot's The Theory of Everything spotlights theoretical physicists awaiting the greatest, most anticipated, most expensive experiment in the history of mankind. By contrast, Manifold Destiny by Sylvia Nasar and David Gruber tells of Russian mathematician Grigory Perelman, who quietly announced a solution to one of the field's most elusive problems: Fermat's Last Theorem. Atul Gawande's The Score looks at the all-too-often painful history of obstetrics, and Truth or Consequences by Jennifer Couzin examines the bitter fallout for innocent graduate students and postdocs when their adviser is accused of falsifying data. Oliver Sacks's Stereo Sue explores the marvel of binocular vision, and Barry Yeoman's Schweitzer's Dangerous Discovery profiles unconventional paleontologist Mary Higby Schweitzer, discoverer of tissue remnants in dinosaur bones. These articles, culled mainly from general interest publications like the New Yorker but also from science magazines like Discover, showcase articles that show, in Kolata's words, how [a]dvances in science have changed who we are as human beings and... are changing what we will become, and readers will indeed find them as exciting as they are compelling. (Sept. 18)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From daring medical developments to dire environmental predictions, from sophisticated computer applications to scathing evolutionary skirmishes, the range of scientific topics covered by journalists has never been more eclectic or exhilarating, nor has it ever been so accessible to the layperson whose knowledge of or interest in such presumably "technical" subjects might have been left behind at the end of high-school biology classes. With so many stellar examples of sharp and satisfying writing to choose from, Kolata faced a daunting editing task, yet the 20 selections in this year's annual compilation represent a seamless fusion of the empirical and elemental. Among the highlights: Stacey Burling's nimble tale of diagnosing Alzheimer's disease; Matthew Chapman's nifty behind-the-scenes exposé of the Dover, Pennsylvania, lawsuit regarding the teaching of evolution; and Gregory Mone's noteworthy profile of the scientist behind movie science. Culled from the pages of Harper's, Esquire, and the New Yorker, among other mainstream publications, this compelling compendium is one-stop reading for technogeeks and regular folk alike. Haggas, Carol
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This year there are 20 articles from 11 different publications. It is heavy on medical science (8-9 essays) and human interest science rather than hard science - an advantage or disadvantage depending on how you look at it, but makes for easy reading.
My favorite article, by Jonathan Keats - John Koza has built an invention machine - Artificial Intelligence that solves complex engineering problems with minimal to no human guidance. The machine's method? - Darwinian evolution by natural selection: survival of the fittest computer code.
Tyler Cabot - Why the "theory of everything," that will unite quantum physic with Einstein's theories of relativity is a fool's errand.
Sylvia Nasar and David Gruber - Mathematician Gregory Perelman refused the honors and financial awards for solving the Poincare conjecture. A scramble ensued among others who wished to gain undue credit for that vacant seat of honor.
Robin Henig - A foolproof lie detector might be bad for human society. "After all, the skills of lying are the same skills involved in the best human social interactions."
Joshua Davis - The brain's system for recognizing faces is separate from its system for discerning other objects. Says one patient with a deficient facial recognition module, "Everyone looks the same so it's hard to commit emotionally with anyone."
Oliver Sacks - The only way to perceive depth rather than judge it is with binocular vision. Stereo Sue's newfound visual abilities were "absolutely delightful...ordinary things looked extraordinary."
Stacey Burling - Alzheimer's disease steadily robs you of your humanity...first your memory, then your dignity, then your life. "When I start blithering, I want you to shoot me," Bob told his wife.
David Dobbs - Deep Brain Stimulation, a surgery used for Parkinson's, now used successfully (if experimentally) for intractable depression. Is "Area 25" an on/off switch for depression?
Denise Gray - A new laser twist on a well-established surgery for aneurysms in the brain.
Jerome Groopman - Family presence during resuscitation exposes a conflict between chaplains and nurses (who worry about families' emotional needs) and physicians, who are primarily concerned with quality of care.
Matthew Chapman - Coverage of the Dover, Pennsylvania Intelligent Design trial by none other than the great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin.
Atul Gawande - To discourage the inexpert from using forceps, obstetrics had to discourage everyone from using them. This is about forceps, C-Sections, and the revolutionary Apgar score.
Jennifer Couzin - Whistle blowers in cases of misconduct involving basic science research often suffer a loss of time, prestige, and credibility - then frequently change careers.
Lawrence Altman - Ninety-eight year old Michael DeBakey is the oldest survivor of an operation he himself devised. Was this VIP medical care ethical?
Elizabeth Kolbert - How climate change is causing the forced migration of various species.
William Broad - New evidence adds to the complexity of the issue of climate change - a clear victory for mainstream scientific opinion, but not a slam dunk.
John Cassidy - With fMRI (brain imaging), neuroeconomists test whether people really make rational choices in financial decisions.
Barry Yeoman - Mary Schweitzer is a paleontologist, a molecular biologist, and an evangelical Christian (a one-of-a-kind combo). She also found soft tissue in Tyrannosaurus Rex bones. Creationists know how to interpret this - God created earth less than 10,000 years ago. Schweitzer doesn't agree.
Patricia Gadsby - You can improve on the 10-minute egg if you learn a little egg chemistry. "Cooking eggs is really a question of temperature, not time."
Gregory Mone - How MIT professor John Underkoffer tries to make the depiction of movie scientists as real as the science.
As I expected, this yearly compilation is a pleasure to read.
I believe this book is drawn from Houghton-Mifflin's successful experience with The Best Short Stories... and The Best Essays. I found it lacking in specificity.
I am not sure that all of the articles meet her criterion of providing insight into important discoveries. I for instance found David Dobbs article on ' A Depression Switch' one which discusses a new surgical technique for treating depression which focuses on brain circuitry to be 'thin' in providing only one case- history in which the procedure was tried and seemed to work.
Tyler Cabot's piece on 'The Theory of Everything' provides a good survey of the work being done now on the realization of Einstein's great dream. String theory, M theory , Loop quantum gravity, the holographic universe- which will provide the theory which will unify all the forces of nature? He shows why there is so much anticipation of the experimental results which will be given by the C.E.R.N. Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland which is scheduled to go operational later this year.
The most powerful, dramatic, interesting, enjoyable piece in this collection I found to be Sylvia Nasr, and David Gruber's 'Manifold Destiny'. They describe the story of the solving of the 'Poincare Conjecture' in the Third Dimension. The story is both of a scientific- mathematical process one and a moral and human competition and struggle. The hero of the story is Grigory Pereleman whose solution to the problem published in three stages on the 'Internet' has been generally accepted by the major mathematical teams that examined it as the correct solution. However as Nasr and Gruber make clear the solution was an effort of many years involving the work of a number of mathematicians, among them Willam Thurston, and Richard Hamilton. The human drama involved a Chinese team of mathematicians including the only Chinese winner of mathematics, most important prize the Fields Medal Shing- Tung Yau. . Considered one of the finest living mathematicians he makes a power play, what the authors clearly see as an illegitimate effort, to steal the honors from Perelman. He does this by having his team provide a much fuller proof than the one Pearlman had provided. Perlman himself refuses the Field award retires from mathematics , and seems to present himself as that kind of pure figure who lives only for the doing of mathematics, and the advancing of human understanding and knowledge.
There are a number of other articles in which the 'human interest' element is at least as important as the scientific. One by Lawrence K.Altman described a heart- procedure done to save the life of Michael DeBakey then ninety- seven. The procedure is one which DeBakey himself devised. In another Robin Marantz Henig examines society's effort to find a reliable way of knowing when someone is lying- a process which has questionable political and moral implications. Another human interest article by Stacy Burling focuses on the story of an Alzheimer's patient and the effort to probe his mind for a cure. The always interesting Oliver Sacks has a piece called 'Stereo Sue' on a woman who for years has no stereoscopic vision only to through the help of a team Sacks is a part of attain this quality. Her words when this happen are perhaps the most inspiring in the volume.
She tells about a moment of perception which she has three years after acquiring the capacity to see in depth .
"In the past ,the snow would have appeared to fall in a flat sheet in one plane slightly in front of me. I would have felt like I was looking in on the snowfall. But now, I felt myself within the snowfall among the snowflakes. Lunch forgotten, I watched the snow fall for several minutes, and , as I watched I was overcome with a deep sense of joy. A snowfall can be quite beautiful- especially when you see it for the first time'.
I have mentioned less than half of the pieces in this most outstanding and enjoyable collection.