Writing in General, and Science Writing in Particular: Annual Anthologies (2)

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The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2012, Series Editor Tim Folger

BestAmScience&NatureThis anthology is divided into six sections, each representing a different area, a different subject matter. Of the 23 essays, five are written by women. That low percentage is at odds with our experience at the Santa Fe Science Writers Workshop, where women participants outnumbered men. But it’s in keeping with what VIDA (and Anna) found when that organization looked at the literary publication rates by gender in some major magazines and in the Best American series.

Six essays in this anthology are reprinted from The New Yorker, and two are from The Atlantic. National Geographic, Scientific American, and Wired are represented by three essays each. Rivka Galchen’s “Dream Machine” appears in this collection as well as in The Best American Science Writing, 2012.

Carl Zimmer is a familiar name if you read a lot of science writing, and his work appears in this collection. In a short essay called “The Long, Curious, Extravagant Evolution of Feathers,” he writes, “Birds are so common, even in the most paved-over places on Earth, that it’s easy to take for granted both their dinosaur heritage and the ingenious plumage that keeps them aloft.”

We’ve written a lot about risk here at Lofty Ambitions (see a sample HERE), so we are intrigued by “What You Don’t Know Can Kill You” by Joshua Daley. “We like to think that humans are supremely logical, making decisions on the basis of hard data and not on a whim,” Daley writes. But any of us who watched Star Trek know that it’s Vulcans, not humans, who make decisions that way. Shortly after the first television foray of Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, researchers also found what Mr. Spock had often asserted. Whether it’s fear of flying versus lack of fear of driving to the grocery store, or iodide in the wake of nuclear disaster versus radon testing, our biases and shortcut thinking, which work well in many ways, skew our perception of risk. Now that we understand this skewing, Daley asserts, risk communication can adapt

GlobeBrian Christian investigates artificial and human intelligence in “Mind vs. Machine.” concludes, “As computers have mastered rarefied domains once thought to be uniquely human, they simultaneously have failed to master the ground-floor basics of the human experience—spatial orientation, object recognition, natural language, adaptive goal-setting—and in doing so, have shown us how impressive, computationally and otherwise, such minute-to-minute fundamentals really are.”

There’s something for everyone in these annual anthologies. Brendon Buhler gives an overview of the microbes for which our bodies are home in “The Teeming Metropolis of You.” Sandra Blakeslee, one of the leaders at the Santa Fe workshop, is currently working on a book about our microbiome and the threat that antibiotics pose.

Sy Montgomery hangs out with an octopus and learns about intelligence in “Deep Intellect.” You can read this article online at Orion HERE.

Michael Specter investigates the future of meat and meat-eating in “Test-Tube Burgers.” This piece connects well to a talk we heard at SciWrite by Alex Blanchette, who has investigated the U.S. hog farm industry.

Joshua Davis covers the bitcoin—invented currency that is “all bit and no coin”—phenomenon in “The Crypto-Currency.” Bitcoin is a hot story right now—just Google bitcoin and narrow to news, and you’ll see recent stories in Forbes, Business Week, and PCWorld.

We suggest that you pick up a copy at your local independent bookstore, or consider ordering a copy from Collected Works HERE.

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