Full Frontal Disclosure: I received a complimentary review copy of this book.
I’m no scientist, but I am fan of science and those who practice it. I call myself a nerd, but I don’t think that claim would make it through peer review. The process of discovering what makes the universe, the world, and all of us tick is fascinating. And the more micro you get, the more macro the issues – it’s just amazing. I love the correlations, the conclusions and the anomalies that explicate the rules.
The Best Science Writing Online 2012 is a collection of online essays on scientific topics. The book covers a lot of ground, and topics great and small. It’s the sixth such compilation from editor Bora Zivkovic. Blog editor at Scientific American, and organizer of the ScienceOnline conference, Bora has a front row seat to the science blogosphere (God, I hate that word), and this book includes essays on a very wide variety of topics.
Fine writing is a beautiful thing. And fine scientific writing is beautiful in the way of fine scientific illustrations. Precise, clean and carefully edited to create an accurate representation and lay bare defining characteristics. They are instructional tools, but also works of art, like many of the essays in this compilation. The trick with both is keeping it accessible.
In this constellation of stories from a wide range of disciplines, a couple of lines seemed to sum it up better than I could, so let me allow the authors to speak for themselves.
First, from from “The Human Lake” by Carl Zimmer, I found this to be at once horrifying, but also the reason I love reading this kind of stuff. Here is just one little detail on how human health could be considered a matter of cultivating a healthy ecology:
“So try to imagine for a moment producing an elephant’s worth of microbes. I know it’s difficult, but the fact is that actually in your lifetime you will produce five elephants’ worth of microbial biomass. You are basically a microbe factory… The microbes in your body at this moment outnumber your cells by ten to one.”
Next, on discovery, and how new species are constantly being discovered in mundane, well-traveled and documented places. This quote is good advice for not just scientists, but students of all stripes, and also all writers and artists, and – well – everyone else. From “Man Discovers a New Life-Form At a South African Truck Stop,” by Rob Dunn:
“So pay attention when you are walking through forests and backyards and, yes, even truck stops. Take notes. Take pictures and assume that you are the very first one to see everything that you see. The life around us is as foreign as the dark side of the Moon; we just forget.”
Finally, and most topically, why science blogs? Well David Dobbs sums it up nicely in “Free Science, One Paper at a Time”:
“A blog may seem a sketchy way to publish science. Yet in a way it makes sense. Science, however rigorous, implicitly recognizes that every explanation is provisional; there is no finished version. So what could be more fitting than to revamp science through a platform explicitly built to be revised, commented on, and updated?”
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