16 October 2012

The Best American Science Writing 2012

This year's offering by Ecco was edited by Michio Kaku - someone who I greatly like on any History Channel offering about the universe (when they actually have something either historical/scientific as opposed to pawn shops, shooting competitions, and various other "reality" television shows) and whose books I keep meaning to read.  So was already slightly more favorably disposed toward this volume compared to the Mariner 2012 volume.

Kaku decided on a rather interesting organization scheme - he ordered articles from most familiar subject to the general public to last familiar.  So he started with the most familiar subject, our own bodies, and an article from Science by Gretchen Vogel, "Mending the Youngest Hearts", in which the brave new frontier of medicine is lab-grown blood vessels created from infants' own stem cells for use in Fontan and other cardiac procedures.  He works outward through medicine, biology, ecology, psychology, and physics until he reaches the outer edge where science and religion butt-up against one another.  The latter half of the book is a bit heavy on the physics articles, so perhaps a few less of those and a smattering from ecological or engineering articles instead.

All the articles are highly informative - Rabelo and Bogdanich's NYT exposé regarding the over-radiation of patients by untrained/uncertified medical technicians, John Fischman's rather frightening article regarding the predictability of criminal behavior in relation to brain structure, Jaron Lanier and a look back at IBM's Watson, Rachel Aviv's "God Knows Where I Am" about the fine line of madness and sanity and the gaps in our mental health system.  I particularly enjoyed "An Immune System Trained to Kill Cancer" by Denise Grady - a new direction in cancer research wherein a patient's immune system could be trained to kill cancer cells without the toxicity, side effects, and dangers of traditional chemotherapy and radiation; given that certain cancers have mutating genetic structures it would also be easier to modify therapy if a mutation changes the surface proteins, etc.  On the other hand, I felt "The Fire Next Time" - a Rolling Stone article by Jeff Goodell - really didn't have as much "science" in it as other articles, even for a lay-article, and was instead more of a call to arms.

Only two articles over-lapped the Mariner volume - "Beautiful Brains" by David Dobbs and Rivka Galchen's "Dream Machine" - so I got a nice set of articles read between the two volumes.

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