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The best American Science Writing 2008

12 Oct 2008

Way worse than last year’s.

The Best American Science Writing 2007 was great, filled with a wide variety of topics, and all of them well written. A particular account of the most recent intelligent design trial will always be a favorite of mine, and I’d have never found it without that collection.

2008 needs a new editor. All but 3 or 4 of the entries are on the topic of health care, and many are a far cry from qualifying as top-tier science writing. Some are little more than press releases. The only topics that are not health care are environmental. Not that I disagree with the conservation stance per se, but the collection has a definite ‘left wing’ feel to the selection of ‘best writings’ that greatly disappointed me. The topic of pharmaceutical advertising comes up several times.

There were 3 very worthwhile articles here, including a fantastic one on the ongoing development of a world seed bank, in which the countries of the world are attempting to safeguard the genetic diversity of the world’s crop species. It’s a very good tale, and great science writing, complete with a few yarns about the people involved, well-written background stories, and the like. I’m quite glad to have read it, actually, because there are some topics there that libertarians, a political philosophy I’ve been leaning more and more towards, need to discuss. In particular, it’s a pretty trivial argument to say that genetic diversity is a common goods issue, a problem not well solved by libertarians. Who’s responsible for preserving the genetic diversity that saves us from an eventual crop monoculture extinction?

Good entries notwithstanding, I wouldn’t recommend the book if someone asked and won’t be buying next year’s. Some of the entries are gob-smackingly bad writing, cleary lifted from newspapers. And the worthwhile stuff is not any better than hundreds of articles of equal caliber written daily and posted on the web for free.