The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2003

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Since its inception in 1915, the Best American series has become the premier annual showcase for the country's finest short fiction and nonfiction. For each volume, a series editor reads pieces from hundred of periodicals, then selects between fifty and a hundred outstanding works. That selection is pared down to the twenty or so very best pieces by a guest editor who is widely recognized as a leading writer in his or her field. This unique system has helped make the Best ...

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Overview

Since its inception in 1915, the Best American series has become the premier annual showcase for the country's finest short fiction and nonfiction. For each volume, a series editor reads pieces from hundred of periodicals, then selects between fifty and a hundred outstanding works. That selection is pared down to the twenty or so very best pieces by a guest editor who is widely recognized as a leading writer in his or her field. This unique system has helped make the Best American series the most respected—and most popular—of its kind.
The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2003, edited by Richard Dawkins, is another "eloquent, accessible, and even illuminating" collection (Publishers Weekly). Here are the best and brightest writers on science and nature, writing on such wide-ranging subjects as astronomy's new stars, archaeology, the Bible, "terminal" ice, and memory faults.

Natalie Angier Timothy Ferris Ian Frazier Elizabeth F. Loftus Steven Pinker Oliver Sacks Steven Weinberg Edward O. Wilson

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Dawkins (A Devil's Chaplain), the Cambridge University evolutionary biologist, has selected 29 pieces from a broad array of sources to demonstrate the health and vitality of American science writing. His introduction, presenting his defense of science as a way of knowing what is true about the world, is as engaging as any essay in the collection. Given his long-standing defense of evolutionary theory against attack by creationists, it's not surprising that many of the articles he has opted to include have strong political overtones. Explaining his most controversial selection, an essay by space scientists Clark Chapman and Alan Harris, which uses statistics to argue that our reaction to September 11 was out of proportion to the actual loss, Dawkins argues that their piece is "an example of how the scientific way of thinking might influence our lives for the better." Among his fine choices, a number stand out, such as Gary Taubes's much-talked-about article (originally in the New York Times Magazine) calling into question all we have been told about diet and nutrition; one by Daniel Lazare, reprinted from Harper's, asks readers to reconsider what we know about the origins of Judeo-Christian culture; and a column by Audubon's Ted Williams reassesses the logic offered for killing coyotes in Maine. The anthology is provocative and thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish. (Oct. 10) Forecast: This will be marketed by Houghton along with other titles in the Best American series, but will also compete with Ecco's Best American Science Writing 2003, edited by Oliver Sacks (Forecasts, June 30). Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins taught zoology at the University of California at Berkeley and at Oxford University and is now the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford, a position he has held since 1995. Among his previous books are The Ancestor's Tale, The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker, Climbing Mount Improbable, Unweaving the Rainbow, and A Devil's Chaplain. Dawkins lives in Oxford with his wife, the actress and artist Lalla Ward.

TIM FOLGER is a contributing editor at Discover and writes about science for several magazines.

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Introduction

In introducing this anthology of American scientific writing I invoke two
recently dead heroes, one a scientist and American, the other a writer, not
trained in science and not from America but a lover of both. Carl Sagan gave
one of his last books the characteristically memorable subtitle Science as a
Candle in the Dark. Douglas Adams chose to study English literature at
Cambridge, but he explained to me, in a televised conversation in 1997, that
his reading habits have now changed: 'I think I read much more science than
novels. I think the role of the novel has changed a little bit. In the nineteenth
century the novel was where you went to get your serious reflections and
questionings about life. You'd go to Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Nowadays, of
course, you know the scientists actually tell us much, much more about
such issues than you would ever get from novelists. So I think for the real
solid red meat of what I read I go to science books, and read some novels as
light relief.'
Even while listening to him, I reflected on my frustration, going into
bookshops and trying to find scientific books. If there is a science section at
all, it is dwarfed not only by fiction, history, biography, 'self-help,' cookery,
and gardening, but also by 'new age,' 'occult,' and religion. It has become a
commonplace that astrology books outsell astronomy by a large margin.
Turning back to Adams, I asked him, 'What is it about science
that really gets your blood running?' and he replied: 'The world is a thing of
utter inordinate complexity and richness and strange- ness that is absolutely
awesome. Imean, the idea that such complexity can arise not only out of
such simplicity but probably absolutely out of nothing is the most fabulous,
extraordinary idea. And once you get some kind of inkling of how that might
have happened — it's just wonderful. And I feel, you know, that the
opportunity to spend seventy or eighty years of your life in such a universe is
time well spent as far as I am concerned!'
Carl Sagan obviously shared those sentiments and devoted much
of his career to expounding them, but The Demon-Haunted World, whose
subtitle I quoted, has a darker theme. The darkness of ignorance breeds fear.
In the words of a prayer which I early learned from my Cornish grandmother,

From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggety beasties And things that go
bump in the night Good Lord deliver us.

Some say it is Scottish, not Cornish, but the sentiments are anyway
worldwide. People are afraid of the dark. Science, as Sagan argued and
personally exemplifled, has the power to reduce ignorance and dispel fear.
We should all read science and learn to think like scientists, not because
science is useful (though it is), but because the light of knowledge is
wonderful and banishes the debilitating and time-wasting fear of the dark.
That uncompromisingly articulate chemist Peter Atkins has a utopian vision
of a scientifically enlightened world which I share: 'When we have dealt with
the values of the fundamental constants by seeing that they are unavoidably
so, and have dismissed them as irrelevant, we shall have arrived at complete
understanding. Fundamental science can then rest. We are almost there.
Complete knowledge is within our grasp. Comprehension is moving across
the face of the Earth, like the sunrise.'
Unfortunately, science arouses fears of its own, usually because
of a confusion with technology. Even technology is not inherently frightening,
but it can, of course, do bad things as well as good. If you want to do good,
or if you want to do bad, science will provide the most effective way in either
case. The trick is to choose the good rather than the bad, and what I fear is
the judgment of those to whom society delegates that choice.
Science is the systematic method by which we apprehend what is
true about the real world in which we live. If you want consolation, or an
ethical guide to the good life, you can look elsewhere (and may be
disappointed). But if you want to know what is true about reality, science is
the only way. If there were a better way, science would embrace it.
Science can be seen as a sophisticated extension of the sense
organs nature gave us. Properly used, the worldwide cooperative enterprise of
science works like a telescope pointing toward reality; or, turned around, a
microscope to dissect details and analyze causes. So understood, science
is fundamentally a benign force, even though the technology that it spawns is
powerful enough to be dangerous when abused. Ignorance of science can
never be a good thing, and scientists have a paramount duty to explain their
subject and make it as simple as possible (though no simpler, as Einstein
rightly insisted).
Ignorance is usually a passive state, seldom deliberately sought
or intrinsically blameworthy. Unfor seem to be some people
who positively prefer ignorance and resent being told the truth. Michael
Shermer, debonair editor and proprietor of Skeptic magazine, tells of the
audience reaction when he unmasked a professional charlatan onstage. Far
from showing Shermer the gratitude he deserved for exposing a fake who was
conning them, the audience was hostile. 'One woman glared at me and told
me it was 'inappropriate' to destroy these people's hopes during their time of
grief.'
Admittedly, this particular phony's claim was to communicate
with the dead, so the bereaved may have had special reasons for resenting a
scientific debunker. But Shermer's experience is typical of a more general
mood of protective affection for ignorance. Far from being seen as a candle in
the dark, or as a wonderful source of poetic inspiration, science is too often
decried as poetry's spoilsport.
A more snobbish denigration of science can be found in some, but
by no means all, literary circles. 'Scientism' is as dirty a word as any in
today's intellectual lexicon. Scientific explanations that have the virtue of
simplicity are derided as 'simplistic.' Obscurity is often mistaken for
profundity; simple clarity can be taken for arrogance. Analytical minds are
denigrated as 'reductionist' — as with 'sin,' we may not know what it means,
but we do know that we are against it. The Nobel Prize–winning immunologist
and polymath Peter Medawar, not a man to suffer fools gladly, remarked
that 'reductive analysis is the most successful research stratagem ever
devised,' and continued: 'Some resent the whole idea of elucidating any
entity or state of affairs that would otherwise have continued to languish in a
familiar and nonthreatening squalor of incomprehension.'
Nonscientific ways of thinking — intuitive, sensitive, imaginative
(as if science were not imaginative!) — are thought by some to have a built-in
superiority over cold, austere, scientific 'reason.' Here's Medawar again, this
time in his celebrated lecture 'Science and Literature': 'The official Romantic
view is that Reason and the Imagination are antithetical, or at best that they
provide alternative pathways leading to the truth, the pathway of Reason
being long and winding and stopping short of the summit, so that while
Reason is breathing heavily there is Imagination capering lightly up the hill.'
Medawar goes on to point out that this view was even once
supported by scientists themselves. Newton claimed to make no
hypotheses, and scientists generally were supposed to employ 'a calculus of
discovery, a formulary of intellectual behaviour which could be relied upon to
conduct the scientist towards the truth, and this new calculus was thought of
almost as an antidote to the imagination.'
Medawar's own view, inherited from his 'personal guru' Karl
Popper and shared by most scientists today, was that imagination is seminal
to all science but is tempered by critical testing against the real world.
Creative imagination and critical rigor are both to be found in this collection of
contemporary American scientific literature.
For a non-American to be invited by a leading American publisher
to anthologize American writings about science is an honor, the mor
because American science is, by almost any index one could conjure,
preeminent in the world. Whether we measure the money spent on research
or count the numbers of active scientists working, of books and journal
articles published, or of major prizes won, the United States leads the rest of
the world by a convincing margin. My admiration for American science is so
enthusiastic, so downright grateful, that I hope I may not be thought
presumptuous if I sound a note of discordant warning. American science
leads the world, but so does American anti-science. Nowhere is this more
clearly seen than in my own field of evolution.
Evolution is one of the most securely established facts in all
science. The knowledge that we are cousins to apes, kangaroos, and
bacteria is beyond all educated doubt: as certain as our (once doubted)
knowledge that the planets orbit the sun, and that South America was once
joined to Africa, and India distant from Asia. Particularly secure is the fact
that life's evolution began a matter of billions of years ago. And yet, if polls
are to be believed, approximately 45 percent of the population of the United
States firmly believes, to the contrary, an elementary falsehood: all species
separately owe their existence to 'intelligent design' less than ten thousand
years ago. Worse, the nature of American democratic institutions is such
that this perversely ignorant half of the population (which does not, I hasten to
add, include leading churchmen or leading scholars in any discipline) is in
many districts strongly placed to influence local educational policy. I have
met biology teachers in various states who feel physically intimidated from
teaching the central theorem of their subject. Even reputable publishers have
felt sufficiently threatened to censor school textbooks of biology.
That 45 percent figure really is something of a national educational
disgrace. You'd have to travel right past Europe to the theocratic societies
around the Middle East before you hit a comparable level of antiscientific
miseducation. It is bafflingly paradoxical that the United States is by far the
world's leading scientific nation while simultaneously housing the most
scientifically illiterate populace outside the Third World.
Sputnik, the Russian satellite launched in 1957, was widely seen
as a salutary lesson, spurring the United States out of complacency and into
redoubled educational efforts in science. Those efforts paid off spectacularly,
for example, in the dazzling successes of the space program and the Human
Genome Project. But more than forty years have passed since Sputnik, and I
am not the only Americophile to suggest that another such fright may be
needed. Short of that — well, in any case — we need excellent scientific
writing for a general audience. Fortunately that high-quality commodity is in
abundant supply in America, which has made the compiling of this anthology
both easy and a pleasure. The only difficulty, indeed the only pain, has been
in deciding what to leave out.
Should a collection such as this be timely or timeless? Topical
and of-the-moment? Or sub specie aeternitatis? I think both. On the one
hand, the volume is one of a series, tied to a particular year,
between predecessors and successors. That nudges us in the direction of
topicality: what are the hot scientific subjects of 2003; what are the current
political and social issues that scientific writings of the previous year might
illuminate? On the other hand, science's ambitions — more so, I venture,
than any other discipline's — approach the timeless, even the eternal. Laws
of nature that changed from year to year, or even from eon to eon, would
seem too parochial to deserve the name. Of course our understanding of
natural law changes — for the better — from decade to decade, but that is
another matter. And, within the unchanging laws of the universe, their
physical manifestations change, on time scales spanning gigayears to
femtoseconds.
Biology, like physics, anchors itself in uniformitarianism. Its
defining engine — evolution — is change, change par excellence. But
evolution is the same kind of change now as it was in the Cretaceous, and as
it will be in all futures we can imagine. The play's the same, though the
players that walk the stage are different. Their costumes are similar enough
to connect, say, triceratops with rhinoceros, or allosaurus with tiger, in
ecological continuity. If an ecologist, a physiologist, a biochemist, and a
geneticist were to mount an expedition to the Cretaceous or the
Carboniferous, their 2003-vintage skills and education would serve them
almost as well as if they were going to, say, Madagascar today. DNA is
DNA, proteins are proteins. They and their interactions change only trivially.
The principles of Darwinian natural selection, of Mendelian and molecular
genetics, of physiology and ecology, the laws of island biogeography, all
these surely applied to dinosaurs, and before them to mammal-like reptiles,
just as they apply now to birds and modern mammals. They will still apply in
a hundred million years' time, when we are extinct and new faunistic players
have taken the stage. The leg muscles of a tyrannosaur in hot-breathed
pursuit were fueled by ATP such as any modern biochemist would recognize,
charged up by Krebs cycles indistinguishable from the Krebs cycles of
today. The science of life doesn't change from eon to eon, even if life itself
does.
So far, so timeless. But we live in 2003. Our lives are measured in
decades and our psychological horizons crammed somewhere between
seconds and centuries, seldom reaching further. Science's laws and
principles may be timeless, but science bears mightily upon our fleeting
selves. The science and nature writing of 2002 is not the same as it was ten
years ago, partly because we now know more about what is eternally true,
but also because the world in which we live changes, and so does science's
impact upon it. Some of the essays and articles in this book are firmly date-
stamped; some are timeless. We need both.
Nature writing perennially returns to the theme of conservation and
extinction. Of all arguments in favor of preserving species from extinction, I
am moved more by aesthetic sentiment than by utilitarian advocacies of
the 'You never know whether something in the rain forest might eventually
turn out to be useful to humanity' kind. But aesthetic isn't a big enough word,
nor is sentiment. Douglas Adams's Professor Chronotis used his time
machine for only one regular purpose: he would visit pre-seventeenth-century
Mauritius, weep over the dodo, and return. The sense of irreparable loss —
grief — our descendants will feel for elephants and whales brings today's
imagination up short. Today we are still privileged to watch these great
creatures, dodos for future generations to weep over. And we are still finding
out new and extraordinary things about them, as 'Four Ears to the Ground'
and 'Fat Heads Sink Ships' both show.
My personal dodo has long been the marsupial Thylacinus, often
irritatingly called the Tasmanian tiger — irritatingly because it was much
more like a dog (with a few stripes across the rump). I once wrote of it, 'To
any dog-lover, the contemplation of this alternative approach to the dog
design, this evolutionary traveller along a parallel road separated by 100
million years, this part familiar yet part utterly alien other-worldly dog, is a
moving experience. Maybe they were pests to humans, but humans were
much bigger pests to them; now there are no thylacines left and a
considerable surplus of humans.' It is too late for the dodo, but 'Raising the
Dead' airs the faint hope (it may never reach the status of an expectation) of
one day bringing Thylacinus back from the dead by cloning DNA from pickled
museum specimens.
I once had the good fortune to spend two weeks in a tropical
research center in Panama with my senior colleague and friend, the zoologist
John Maynard Smith. We were being shown round by a young researcher
whose enthusiasm moved Smith to whisper to me: 'What a
pleasure to listen to a man who really loves his animals.' The 'animals' in
question were various species of palm tree. I was reminded of this when
reading 'Terminal Ice.' It is all about men who love their animals, but their
animals are icebergs. The article ends more grimly on what today's icebergs
may be telling us about our globally warmed future. Complementing this
article, 'Ice Memory' tells how cores taken from glaciers constitute a
sensitive record of climate changes of the past, perhaps foreshadowing an
even grimmer future unconnected with global warming.
In my choice, I have been mindful that North America's natural
heritage is perhaps the richest and most beautiful in the temperate world. It is
also under threat from powerful interests more concerned with commercial
exploitation than science, or beauty, or anything that we might recognize as
civilized values at all. I do not, therefore apologize for including, among the
natural history articles, some with a political agenda. These include 'Maine's
War on Coyotes' — and, by the way, on the subject of coyotophilia, I am
sorry it was not possible to include extensive passages from Barbara
Kingsolver's beautiful novel Prodigal Summer. 'Sounding the Alarm' is a
remembrance of the prophet Rachel Carson, and 'The Bottleneck' a similar
warning for our times from Edward O. Wilson.
Wilson is a scientific prophet if ever there was one, and I have
also included a biographical piece representing him as a latter-day
Thoreau, 'Finding a Wild, Fearsome World Beneath Every Fallen Leaf.' As
another matched pair — ar with biography of its author — I offer 'The
Fully Immersive Mind of Oliver Sacks' paired with Sacks himself on a slightly
unexpected subject, 'Anybody Out There?' The same theme, the possibility
of extraterrestrial life, is treated rather differently by Tim Appenzeller in 'At
Home in the Heavens.'
That title is a possibly unconscious allusion to Stuart Kauffman's
otherwise very different At Home in the Universe, which in turn has weaker
resonances with Timothy Ferris's Coming of Age in the Milky Way. Ferris
himself is represented here by 'Astronomy's New Stars,' in praise of amateur
astronomers. 'The Very Best Telescope' pleases me because it presents a
technical innovation as the solution to a problem: always my strategy when
explaining the design of natural instruments such as eyes and echolocation
systems. 'A New View of Our Universe' reaches the philosophical — some
would say theological — cutting edge of cosmology. Is the universe not only
our home but tailor-made for the task?
From theology sublime to theology mundane, 'False Testament'
reveals no great surprises, but the details are fascinating to those of us
raised in a Judeo-Christian culture, and perhaps instructive, even salutary, to
the benighted 45 percent that I mentioned earlier. Another archaeological
piece is 'Treasure Under Saddam's Feet.' The dam that would flood these
priceless antiquities to oblivion is due for completion in 2007. Might a halt to
the damming plans turn out to be an unexpected benefit of war? I doubt it. In
any case, war arouses greater fears for Iraq's other treasures, which rival
those of Greece and Egypt in their archaeological importance.
How closely related are you to me? Probably closer than you
think. My guess is based on the mathematics of Joseph Chang, discussed
in 'The Royal We.' Most people have a natural curiosity about their ancestral
past, and genetics is starting to develop methods to satisfy it, along with our
sometimes morbid curiosity about our individual futures, as David Ewing
Duncan discovers in 'DNA as Destiny.' Incidentally, those fearful that
genetics may teach them too much about their own inexorable fates might
take comfort from something we have known all along: identical twins don't
habitually die on the same day. But how fated are we by our genes when it
comes to abilities and talents? Steven Pinker, in 'The Blank Slate,' brings
his customary acumen and style to dispelling the many misunderstandings
that surround this question.
Pinker is identified with evolutionary psychology, one of those
names — another being behavioral ecology — now used as a euphemism for
what used to be called sociobiology. Natalie Angier's 'Weighing the Grandma
Factor' is a second piece in a genre that is regarded by some, for reasons
that I understand but deny, as politically controversial. There's no denying,
however, the controversy in some of the pieces I have chosen on scientific
approaches to political or social questions. Steven Weinberg is one of the
world's most distinguished physicists, and his 'The Truth About Missile
Defense' is an important document that should (but probably won't) be
studied by politicians up to the highest level. Lawyers and judges should pay
similar attent to Elizabeth Loftus's 'Memory Faults and Fixes.' Dr. Loftus
is another scientific hero, whose courageous — and how sad that courage
should be necessary — testimony on the sometimes inadvertent but more
usually deliberate implanting of false memories has saved a significant
number of innocent people from the current Salem-like hysteria over
pedophilia.
'Embryo Police' is an American view of an institution that exerts
considerable power in my own country, the Human Fertilization and
Embryology Authority (HFEA). A famous case handled by the HFEA is that
of Diane Blood, a young woman who tragically lost her husband to meningitis
in 1995. While he was on a life support system, before his death, she
persuaded the doctors to extract and freeze some of his sperm so that she
might have his baby as they had always planned. The doctors obliged, but
the HFEA subsequently denied her permission to undergo the in vitro
fertilization on the grounds that her husband, in his terminal coma, could not
give his written consent. After fighting them in the courts for years, Mrs.
Blood was eventually allowed to take her husband's sperm abroad, and a
European IVF clinic eventually gave her beloved husband two posthumous
sons. She had to fight again to amend their birth certificates so their father
was recorded as 'Stephen Blood' rather than 'Unknown.' Perhaps unfairly,
some might see Mrs. Blood's case as a cautionary tale from Britain for
America, about the grief that can arise when lawyers and moralistic
busybodies are given a license to poke their noses into private matters.
Diet is a political as well as a scienti issue, increasingly so as
the epidemic of obesity gathers pace. Dr. Robert Atkins's long-running
campaign to shift the blame from fats to carbohydrates is the subject
of 'What If It's All Been a Big Fat Lie?' I am not expert enough to give an
authoritative verdict, but as a dispassionate observer I think it looks as
though Atkins and his followers have built up a case that is at least
compelling enough to demand a clear answer from that part of the medical
establishment which once ridiculed him and now sounds desperate for his
findings to go away.
The treatment of women in scientific careers was, until quite
recently, often horribly unjust. The exclusion of Rosalind Franklin, she whose
X-ray photographs were so crucial to Watson and Crick's discovery of the
double helix, from the Common Room at King's College London, where her
male colleagues could go and talk science, is infamous. I was reminded of it
when I read 'My Mother, the Scientist,' Charles Hirshberg's touching memoir
of Joan Feynman, his mother (and the sister of the famous theoretical
physicist). As Hirshberg puts it, 'To become a scientist is hard enough. But
to become one while running a gauntlet of lies, insults, mockeries, and
disapproval — this was what my mother had to do. If such treatment is
unthinkable (or, at least, unusual) today, it is largely because my mother and
other female scientists of her generation proved equal to every obstacle
thrown in their way.'
In these more enlightened times, it is important to stop the
pendulum overshooting the other way, such that young men find themselves
at an unfair disadvantage in seeki employment in scientific or other
academic work. Injustices to females in one era cannot be redressed today
by injustices to males of a later era: it is a different lot of males and females!
The same fallacy underlies ludicrous (and racist) demands for reparations to
be paid to modern individuals with the same skin color as slaves by modern
individuals with the same skin color as slaveowners.
Bill McKibben's 'It's Easy Being Green' begins as a hymn of
praise to his new car, a hyper-economical, environment-friendly hybrid-
electric model. He modulates into baffled, and I think justified, anger against
those in the motor industry and government who will not admit how easy and
painless it would be to free ourselves from our 'oil addiction' and 'the gas-
sucking SUVs that should by all rights come with their own little Saudi flags
on the hood.'
'Homeland Insecurity' is more technically interesting than angry,
but it concerns an issue that will become ever more important to our society:
how to protect information that all of us have a right to regard as private. This
problem may become more controversial as we face up to government
demands, in the face of the threat of terrorism, to encroach on our privacy.
The subject of terrorism brings me to my final choice, one for
which I might need to offer an apology. The main talking point throughout
2002 was surely the appalling suicide attack on New York of the previous
September, and it is hard to omit the topic from any collection of the year's
writing. But what can science say to us at such a time? No doubt technology
will offer ingenious suggestions for avo similar manmade tragedies in the
future, from reinforced cockpit doors and automatic, pilot-free landing
systems to stun grenades and narcotic drugs piped through airliner
ventilation systems. But, true to my more academic view of science, I have
chosen 'A Skeptical Look at September 11th.' It is only fair to mention that
not everybody shares my enthusiasm for this piece by the space scientists
Clark Chapman and Alan Harris. Some colleagues, whom I respect, are
unconvinced by the assumptions underlying the authors' statistical
estimates. Others even find the article offensive. But it seems to me that, far
from downgrading the tragedy (which is the last thing anyone of goodwill
wishes to do), Chapman and Harris offer constructive hope. If we all took a
dose of their no-nonsense statistical common sense, bigots like bin Laden
would be impotent (think of Germaine Greer's robust advice to women
exposed to flashers: laugh at them). America is much too powerful for tinpot
thugs like bin Laden to do widespread damage. But they can do enormous
psychological harm if we let them unleash an epidemic of irrational fear.
Even if you disagree with Chapman and Harris's statistical
reasoning, and even if you are offended by its timing, I would like to propose
their essay as a type specimen, an example of how the scientific way of
thinking might influence our lives for the better, quite apart from the more
familiar ways in which scientific methods of doing can benefit us in practice.
Franklin D. Roosevelt's famous remark 'The only thing we have to fear is fear
itself,' which Chapman and Harris predictably quote, brings me back to my
beginning: Carl Sagan's candle, and science's power to banish our fears of
the dark.

—Richard Dawkins

Copyright © 2003 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Introduction copyright ©
2003 by Richard Dawkins. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin
Company.
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Table of Contents

Contents
Foreword ix
Introduction by Richard Dawkins xiii

Natalie Angier. Weighing the Grandma Factor 1
from The New York Times

Tim Appenzeller. At Home in the Heavens 7
from U.S. News & World Report

Alan Burdick. Four Ears to the Ground 11
from Natural History

Clark R. Chapman and Alan W. Harris. A Skeptical Look at September 11th 15
from Skeptical Inquirer

David Ewing Duncan. DNA as Destiny 25
from Wired

Timothy Ferris. Astronomy's New Stars 36
from Smithsonian

Ian Frazier. Terminal Ice 48
from Outside

James Gorman. Finding a Wild, Fearsome World Beneath Every Fallen Leaf 67
from The New York Times

Charles Hirshberg. My Mother, the Scientist 72
from Popular Science

Brendan I. Koerner. Embryo Police 79
from Wired

Elizabeth Kolbert. Ice Memory 91
from The New Yorker

Andrew Lawler. Treasure Under Saddam's Feet 105
from Discover

Daniel Lazare. False Testament 112
from Harper's Magazine

Elizabeth F. Loftus. Memory Faults and Fixes 127
from Issues in Science and Technology

Charles C. Mann. Homeland Insecurity 145
from The Atlantic Monthly

Bill McKibben. It's Easy Being Green 170
from Mother Jones

Steve Olson. The Royal We 176
from The Atlantic Monthly

Dennis Overbye. A New View of Our Universe 181
from The New York Times

Steven Pinker. The Blank Slate 188
from Discover

Oliver Sacks. Anybody Out There? 200
from Natural History

Steve Silberman. The Fully Immersive Mind of Oliver Sacks 206
from Wired

Adam Summers. Fat Heads Sink Ships 225
from Natural History

Gary Taubes. What If It's All Been a Big Fat Lie? 228
from The New York Times Magazine

Bruce Watson. Sounding the Alarm 248
from Smithsonian

William Speed Weed. The Very Best Telescope 254
from Discover

Scott Weidensaul. Raising the Dead 262
from Audubon

Steven Weinberg. The Truth About Missile Defense 271
from The New York Review of Books

Ted Williams. Maine's War on Coyotes 287
from Audubon

Edward O. Wilson. The Bottleneck 297
from Scientific American

Contributors' Notes 315
Other Notable Science and Nature Writing of 2002 321
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