BOOK: The Best American Science Writing 2010 edited by Jerome Groopman (2010)

I’ve seen several of these “best writing” journalism books over the years — there’s a sports writing one, a music one, etc. — but I’d never picked one up before.  Why?  Because I’d never seen the SCIENCE one before, DUH.   And now that I’ve read 2010’s for science, I can’t wait to go back and read all the others I’ve missed (it looks like this particular series goes back to 1995 — whee!), because it was really, really incredibly great.

Some of the articles were ones I’d read in their original publications, as there are several from Discover, the New York Times Sunday Magazine, and the New Yorker, all things I read regularly.  But most of them were articles I’d missed completely.  The first piece in this collection had me thinking for days; it’s about people who volunteer, via a web site, to donate their “spare” organs to sick people (for free), selecting from the site’s numerous profiles a person in need whose story appeals to them and then offering them a much-needed kidney, part of their liver, etc.  Now, think on that for a while — not just about the unique psychology of such a donor, but also the pressure of a gift of that nature (in most cases, the donor and the recipient end up getting to know each other personally) and the ramifications of this on the standard UNOS system, which typically ranks recipients based on medical need (ensuring fair treatment for people of all skin color and financial status, for one thing).  The article addresses all these things and more, and left me feeling a whole host of complicated emotions, ranging from wishing I had the balls to offer someone a gift of that nature and thinking this is probably a really, really bad idea in general.

The second article, about the placebo effect and its place in pharmaceutical research and psychological history, was equally striking, as was the article later in the book that was about a hospital in New Orleans just after Katrina, where doctors made the decision to euthanize several patients, perhaps unjustifiably.  (Anybody who had a DNR, for example, was deemed a low priority for evacuation regardless of their current health status, a fact that utterly horrified me, even as I recognize I can only imagine the hardship and struggle these doctors experienced trying to save as many people as they could.)

Other articles in the book look at genetics, the continuing evolution of man, pesticides as a potential cause of massive bee death, the dangers of the death of real science journalism, and more.   Every article was thoroughly engaging and extremely well-written, not to mention pretty provocative at times as well — exactly what you’d expect from a collection of “best writing” from the last year.

Highly recommended to anybody with even the most passing interest in what’s going on in the world of science these days, and I’m really looking forward to catching up on all the previous years.


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