Friday, August 11, 2006

Book of the Month: The Best American Science Writing 2002

I don't read as often as I used to, but I still manage to polish off two to three books per week. It is inevitable that some books will make me so excited I wish to share them.

The Best American Science Writing 2002, edited by Matt Ridley, is a fascinating and gripping book. It is comprised of magazine articles, most of them in the 4000 to 5000 word range, that were published in 2002. The topics are always relevant, usually controversial, and most assuredly thought-provoking. I think Clare would like this book - the quality of writing is top notch, and the jargon is not technical at all. Each article can raise your awareness to the point that you decide you want to drop your career to make a difference in that field - very powerful stuff.

I am not going to detail all the articles here, but the following I found particularly fascinating:

- An article on a plastic surgeon, who is the foremost emergency repair artist on the East Coast (fixing up burn and cancer victims, for example), but who also dreams of implanting wings in humans. It examines the ethics of body modification, and explores the concept of people as art. It is horrifying, but probably the best article in the entire book

- An article on breeding for parts. Parents of Fanconi anemia (a fatal childhood disease) desperately try to have more children, hoping that one of them will be a bone marrow match to save their dying child. This has now led to in vitro fertilization and ultimately, experimentation on embryos - get as many viable embryos out there and then pick the best one before you implant in the mother.

- An article on cloning. Why would you clone? A clone may be a genetic copy, but will not be "you". A clone will start out again as a baby, so cloning can not replace a dying 30-yr-old sone, for example. The person will be alike yet different. Also, most clones are imperfections, so you would have to destroy hundreds of clones before getting a healthy one

- Medicine and Race; there are known differences between the way white people and black people in the US react to chemical treatment, but because that is considered racist you are not allowed to act on the knowledge - and it is killing people

- The War on Cancer; thirty years later mortality is still as bad. It discusses the flawed model used by the US, and the political funding decisions that are not in the public's best interest, and why the most promising avenues are not able to be explored (politicians are killing you!)

- Dietary Fat; 50 years and millions of dollars of research have failed to show a problem with regular fat intake; since the switch to low-fat diets, though, obesity has risen and other diseases taken hold. It details the commercial and political interests in the low-fat craze, and its deadly consequences.

- Brain Cells; long thought to die but not renew, new evidence has shown we can grow new brain cells. This has implications with late in life learning, and recuperation form diseases. This information was stalled for ten years by one person who's powerful position was threatened if it turned out to be true

- How the Universe Began; a scathing critique of the scientists who claim to know it all (this has nothing to do with religion)

There are myriads of others, including the inconsistencies in quantum theory, global data that shows the world is actually getting better, the effects of melting icecaps on arctic birds, etc

I wish everybody could read this book - it is the most provocative book I have read this year

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