The Best American Science Writing 2002 - Matt Ridley, Jesse Cohen, Alan Lightman
I have now read all but three of the selections. I do think it is rather slim pickings for the "best" of the year. Nonetheless, some of them stood out. A repeated theme is examination of how scientists operate in practice, which can be informative: the battle for NASA funding in "Shadow Science"; in "George Divoky's Planet" (a good one), an uncommonly dedicated fieldworker and how his goals changed over time; conflict between scientists in "Rethinking the Brain"; the collision of public perception with scientific work, indeed ever-present struggles for control of the work. Even if "Brothers with Heart" makes the process of coming up with inspirations seem sunny, even there the protagonists are not free to do what they want. Over and over, you could come away from these articles with the perception that ideas are the smallest (though vital!) part of the work. I found "The Soft Science of Dietary Fat" particularly illuminating. It is not so much about science as it is about government policy which is supposed to be based on science -- but is it? the investigation of that question can be alarming.

A couple of the most interesting pieces concerned advances in medical technology and what people want to get out of them. The cultural insights in Margaret Talbot's "A Desire to Duplicate" are sharp -- a most revealing analysis of reactions to the prospect of human cloning, by people who want to clone. "Dr. Daedalus" by Lauren Slater is a distinctly disturbing article; much to chew on there. The other medical pieces, while not bad, are the sort of thing that is not too unusual. I did like the way that the observations about how the act of blushing seems to be impossible to separate from the experience of embarrassment ("Crimson Tide") ties in with Antonio Damasio's contentions about body and cognition. And Jerome Groopman's "The Thirty Years' War" is a good clear laying out of the situation behind the constant media hype of each new proposed "cure" for cancer.

Steven Weinberg does his usual nice clear job of explaining what he means when he says that physics "explains" something. Finally, I definitely appreciated Sarah Blaffer Hrdy's "Mothers and Others". I always enjoy reading about primatology and human evolution. Hrdy has ideas for the social implications of her research, and lays her arguments out well. However definitive such insights may or may not be, they are wonderful contributions to the discussion.