Interested in dipping into some science writing but not sure where to start?
I recommend the series The Best American Science and Nature Writing. Read the year's most shocking, fascinating and entertaining science writing from magazines such as The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Outside and Scientific American. Contributors include Jonathan Franzen, Jane Goodall and Oliver Sacks. Here's a peek at some of my favourites from the 2010 and 2011 editions.
Dithering about Space (2010)
Tom Wolfe writes a humorous and withering essay about his disillusionment with NASA in "One Giant Leap to Nowhere." He suggests that after the moon landing, NASA floundered due to a lack of vision and funding, and that a manned mission to Mars is NASA's true destiny. Steven Weinberg in "The Missions of Astronomy" argues against the "spectator sport of manned space flights" and feels that robots are far more effective and efficient.
Brain Tricks (2010)
These two articles about neurology are particularly fascinating. Kathleen McGowan in "Out of the Past" describes recent neurological research suggesting that memories are not permanent and can be altered. There is hope that through "editing their memories" patients suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder can find relief. In "Brain Games," John Colapinto profiles the eccentric behavioural neurologist Dr. Vilayanur S. Ramachandran who is a neuroplasticity pioneer. His work in the 1990s with patients suffering from phantom limb syndrome showed how the brain can reorganize itself and how it can be manipulated following trauma. Dr. Ramachandran is a real character and his simple experiments are fascinating.
Cheap Gas (2011)
Sandra Steingraber's "The Whole Fracking Enchilada" is a shocking description of the process of extracting natural gas from shale. Fracking takes place in Canada, across the US, but most intensely in Appalachia. A couple of million gallons of toxic fracking liquid is pumped into the ground for each well drilled. We all enjoy low gas prices but what are the implications for North America's water table?
Deadly Chemistry (2011)
Deborah Blum in "The Chemist's War" describes how during prohibition the American government, in an effort to curb illicit drinking, deliberately poisoned industrial alcohols that were routinely stolen by bootleggers. At least 10 000 people died in what Charles Norris, the Chief Medical Examiner of New York City in the 1920s described as "our national experiment in extermination."