The Best American Science Writing 2002

The Best American Science Writing 2002

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by Matt Ridley, Alan Lightman

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If, as Matt Ridley suggests, science is simply the search for new forms of ignorance, then perhaps it follows that with science's advances come new questions. Will human genetic engineering become commonplace? Will human cloning ever be safe? Are there many universes? How much will the climate change during the coming century?

The Best American Science Writing

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If, as Matt Ridley suggests, science is simply the search for new forms of ignorance, then perhaps it follows that with science's advances come new questions. Will human genetic engineering become commonplace? Will human cloning ever be safe? Are there many universes? How much will the climate change during the coming century?

The Best American Science Writing 2002 gathers top writers and scientists covering the latest developments in the fastest-changing, farthest-reaching scientific fields, such as medicine, genetics, computer technology, evolutionary psychology, cutting-edge physics, and the environment. Among this year's selections: In "The Made-to-Order Savior," Lisa Belkin spotlights two desperate families seeking an unprecedented cure by a medically and ethically unprecedented means — creating a genetically matched child. Margaret Talbot's "A Desire to Duplicate" reveals that the first human clone may very likely come from an entirely unexpected source, and sooner than we think. Michael Specter reports on the shock waves rippling through the field of neuroscience following the revolutionary discovery that adult brain cells might in fact regenerate ("Rethinking the Brain"). Christopher Dickey's "I Love My Glow Bunny" recounts with sly humor a peculiar episode in which genetic engineering and artistic culture collide. Natalie Angier draws an insightful contrast between suicide terrorists and rescue workers who risk their lives, and finds that sympathy and altruism have a definite place in the evolution of human nature, David Berlinski's "What Brings a World into Being?" ponders the idea of biology and physics as essentially digital technologies, exploring the mysteries encoded in the universe's smallest units, be they cells or quanta. Nicholas Wade shows how one of the most controversial books of the year, The Skeptical Environmentalist, by former Greenpeace member and self-described leftist Bjorn Lomborg, debunks some of the most cherished tenets of the environmental movement, suggesting that things are perhaps not as bad as we've been led to believe. And as a counterpoint, Darcy Frey's profile of George Divoky reveals a dedicated researcher whose love of birds and mystery leads to some sobering discoveries about global warming and forcefully reminds us of the unsung heroes of science: those who put in long hours, fill in small details, and take great trouble.

In the end, the unanswered questions are what sustain scientific inquiry, open new frontiers of knowledge, and lead to new technologies and medical treatments. The Best American Science Writing 2002 is a series of exciting reports from science's front lines, where what we don't know is every bit as important as what we know.

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Editorial Reviews

Alan Lightman
“Richly informative, wide-ranging, and intellectually provocative.”
“It is rare to be offered such a diverse collection of science writing, even more, one that can be enjoyed by laymen, scientists, and writers alike.”
“The entire spectrum of science is covered with literary acumen here.”
“Contemporary science’s best answers to…eternal riddles.”
Publishers Weekly
The 21 articles in this anthology represent the finest works of science journalism from the last year, culled from periodicals like Harper's, the New Yorker, Esquire, Scientific American, Wired and the New York Times. September 11 is a recurring theme here, which may be why editor and Genome author Ridley's picks for this third annual edition are so charged with pessimism, ambivalence and uncertainty. In "The Thirty Years' War," Jerome Groopman announces that the battle against cancer has been lost. Nicholas Wade relates the story of a controversial debunker of environmentalists' most cherished beliefs, and Sally Satel's "Medicine's Race Problem" challenges melting-pot platitudes, arguing that ignoring the genetics of race can be bad for some patients' health. Christopher Dickey delivers a dose of absurd humor in "I Love My Glow Bunny," in which art and science collide in genetically modified lab rabbit number 5256, and Joseph D'Agnese inspires in "Brothers With Heart," about four brother-doctors who envision a revolutionary way to save lives with donor organs. Soul-searching isn't all that this collection is about, however. There are old-fashioned wonders here as well, such as Oliver Morton's "Shadow Science," in which he acquaints readers with an astronomer who has observed distant Earth-like planets. Provocative and informative, engrossing, this sparkling anthology is a treat for all science enthusiasts, armchair and otherwise. (Sept.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
This newest edition of a series devoted to popular science writing, presents 21 articles gathered from the pages of such publications as Harper's Magazine, The New Yorker, Science, Wired, Scientific American, and The New York Times Magazine. The essays cover a wide range of fields and touch upon such topics as cosmetic surgery, cloning, the "war" on cancer, genetic engineering, the neural plasticity of the adult brain, evolutionary psychology, "infecting" the Web with viruses, and quantum theory as the worship of mystery. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Best American Science Writing Series
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 0.96(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Lauren Slater

Dr. Daedalus

From Harper's Magazine

Whether it's a skin graft for a burn victim or a face-lift for an aging movie star, plastic surgery works in the realm that most affects our identity: our appearance. The writer and psychologist Lauren Slater profiles a plastic surgeon in Massachusetts whose radical ideas go well beyond the cosmetic -- and confront our basic sense of what it means to be human.

Part I: Beautiful People

Joe Rosen, plastic surgeon at the renowned Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, and by any account an odd man, has a cold. But then again, he isn't sure it's a cold. "It could be anthrax," he says as he hurries to the car, beeper beeping, sleet sleeting, for it's a freezing New England midwinter day when all the world is white. Joe Rosen's nose is running, his throat is raw, and he's being called into the ER because some guy made meat out of his forefinger and a beautiful teenager split her fine forehead open on the windshield of her SUV. It seems unfair, he says, all these calls coming in on a Sunday, especially because he's sick and he isn't sure whether it's the flu or the first subtle signs of a biological attack. "Are you serious?" I say to him. Joe Rosen is smart. He graduated cum laude from Cornell and got a medical degree from Stanford in 1978. And we're in his car now, speeding toward the hospital where he reconstructs faces, appends limbs, puffs and preens the female form. "You really wonder," I say, "if your cold is a sign of a terrorist attack?"

Joe Rosen, a respected and controversial plastic surgeon, wondersa lot of things, some of them directly related to his field, others not. Joe Rosen wonders, for instance, whether Osama bin Laden introduced the West Nile virus to this country. Joe Rosen wonders how much bandwidth it would take to make virtual-reality contact lenses available for all. Joe Rosen wonders why both his ex-wife and his current wife are artists, and what that says about his deeper interests. Joe Rosen also wonders why we insist on the kinds of conservative medical restraints that prevent him from deploying some of his most creative visions: wings for human beings; cochlear implants to enhance hearing, beefing up our boring ears and giving us the range of an owl; super-duper delicate rods to jazz up our vision -- binocular, beautiful -- so that we could see for many miles and into depths as well. Joe Rosen has ideas: implants for this, implants for that, gadgets, gears, discs, buttons, sculpting soft cartilage that would enable us, as humans, to cross the frontiers of our own flesh and emerge as something altogether ... what? Something other.

And we're in the car now, speeding on slick roads toward the hospital, beeper beeping, sleet sleeting, passing cute country houses with gingerbread trim, dollops of smoke hanging above bright brick chimneys; his New Hampshire town looks so sweet. We pull into the medical center. Even this has a slight country flair to it, with gingham curtains hanging in the rows of windows. We skid. Rosen says, "One time I was in my Ford Explorer with my daughter, Sam. We rolled, and the next thing I knew we were on the side of the highway, hanging upside down like bats." He laughs.

We go in. I am excited, nervous, running by his bulky side with my tape recorder to his mouth. A resident in paper boots comes up to us. He eyes the tape recorder, and Rosen beams. Rosen is a man who enjoys attention, credentials. A few days ago he boasted to me, "You shouldn't have any trouble with the PR people in this hospital. I've had three documentaries made of me here already."

"Can I see them?" I asked.

"I don't know," Rosen answered, suddenly scratching his nose very fast. "I guess I'm not sure where I put them," and something about his voice, or his nose, made me wonder whether the documentaries were just a tall tale.

Now the resident rushes up to us, peers at the tape recorder, peers at me. "They're doing a story on me," Rosen says. "For Harper's."

"Joe is a crazy man, a nutcase," the resident announces, but there's affection in his voice.

"Why the beeps?" Rosen asks.

"This guy, he was working in his shop, got his finger caught in an electric planer ... The finger's hamburger," the resident says. "It's just hamburger."

We go to the carpenter's cubicle. He's a man with a burly beard and sawdust-caked boots. He lies too big for the ER bed, his dripping finger held high in the air and splinted. It does look like hamburger.

I watch Rosen approach the bed, the wound. Rosen is a largish man, with a curly head of hair, wearing a Nordstrom wool coat and a cashmere scarf. As a plastic surgeon, he thinks grand thoughts but traffics mostly in the mundane. He has had over thirty papers published, most of them with titles like "Reconstructive Flap Surgery" or "Rhinoplasty for the Adolescent." He is known among his colleagues only secondarily for his epic ideas; his respect in the field is rooted largely in his impeccable surgical skill with all the toughest cases: shotgunned faces, smashed hands.

"How ya doin'?" Rosen says now to the carpenter. The carpenter doesn't answer. He just stares at his mashed finger, held high in the splint.

Rosen speaks softly, gently. He puts his hand on the woodworker's dusty shoulder. "Looks bad," he says, and he says this with a kind of simplicity -- or is it empathy? -- that makes me listen. The patient nods. "I need my finger," he says, and his voice sounds tight with tears. "I need it for the work I do."

Rosen nods. His tipsiness, his grandiosity, seem to just go away. He stands close to the man. "Look," he says, "I'm not going to do anything fancy right now, okay? I'll just have my guys sew it up, and we'll try to let nature take its course. I think that's the best thing, right now. To let nature take its course."

The Best American Science Writing 2002. Copyright � by Matt Ridley. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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What People are saying about this

Alan Lightman
“Richly informative, wide-ranging, and intellectually provocative.”

Meet the Author

Matt Ridley is the author of several award-winning books, including Genome, The Agile Gene, and The Red Queen, which have sold more than 800,000 copies in twenty-seven languages worldwide. He lives in England.

Alan Lightman is a novelist, essayist, physicist, and educator. He is adjunct professor of humanities at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). His essays, short fiction, and reviews have appeared in several magazines. His research articles have appeared in many journals of physics and astrophysics. His novels include Einstein's Dreams, which has been translated into more than thirty languages, and The Diagnosis, which was a National Book Award finalist in Fiction in 2000.

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Best American Science Writing 2002 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The table of contents reads like the track listing from a Zappa album. That alone almost guarantees it will be interesting.