‘Bee’ Reviewed: Best of the Best from 2005

I finally got a new picture of Nyx... it only took a few months.
A new year, a new picture of the cat not looking at me. Purrrrfect.

First – Happy New Year! Here’s to another year of replicate-able research and smooth writing for all.

Now, we press onward, to more great science writing from The Best of the Best American Science Writing! You can see links for the reviews from other prior years at the bottom of this post.

From the year 2005, Robin Marantz Henig’s “The Genome is Black and White (and Gray)” and David Quammen’s “Darwin or Not” were selected, both socially aware pieces rooted in biology.

Henig’s essay eases us into a conversation on race and genomics using a new heart failure medicine, BiDil, that was created specifically for black Americans as the most effective heart failure medications for white Americans seemed to have little effect on the black population. Race-based pharmacogenomics, however, is a touchy area; after several decades of insisting that there is no genetic basis to race and that it is purely a social construct, many academics, researchers, social scientists, and public figures are, reasonably, very hesitant to admit there could be a genetic link to the race question that is strong enough to produce noticeably different effects using different drugs. Particularly considering how the idea of eugenics poisoned several modern cultures and has fueled many racist arguments, can we really give any credence to the potential biological variance between races that would lead to the creation of unique drugs? Are there really biological differences, or can this all be explained by a host of socio-economic factors affecting separate racial groups differently?

Henig is very fair and impartial in her accounting of both the biological, social, and historical elements throughout this essay and, honestly, it’s a really important ethical issue to consider. Race-based pharmacogenomics could vastly improve health care for minorities but also adds fuel to the fire of the racists; no matter who decides to take the lead on this kind of research, we will need to tread lightly as we discover more about the genetics of race. The writing is good, the piece held a great deal of suspense and momentum for me, and honestly it was the most thought-provoking essay of the book so far. In fact, to break the typical review structure, I’d really love to hear your thoughts in the comments below if you chose to read this essay (which I would highly recommend – here’s the link again).

Quammen’s essay seeks to answer the question ‘Was Darwin Wrong?’ in an age where nearly half of Americans don’t believe in evolution (in 2015, that number was still relatively high at 31% with 4% being unsure). For a biologist, this essay is not a must-read; it doesn’t present any new or enlightening information. Quammen, in essence, lays out the pro-evolution argument concisely and in a straightforward, direct manner using bio-geographical, pale-ontological, embryological, and morphological evidence. Despite using those four big words, the rest of the essay is very clean and easy to understand no matter your level of scientific knowledge.

This essay isn’t worth you’re time if you’re pretty knowledgeable about, and sold on, the evolution argument; but if you have an aunt, uncle, or gramma who could use a refresher on evolution this article might be for them. The article is relatively short, well-paced, and very well-organized, so I was able to appreciate it as a piece of quality writing even if the information is a bit basic. Reading the article did serve to remind me that I shouldn’t take my education and understanding of evolution for granted in a country where almost a third of Americans still are woefully ignorant about the fundamental principles underlying our world.

Reviews from 2000                                                                                                          Reviews from 2002

Reviews from 2001                                                                                                           Reviews from 2003

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‘Bee’ Reviewed: The Sting of the Wild

Nyx: I lift my paw at you!

Justin Schmidt’s The Sting of the Wild is an exciting adventure into the life histories, habits, and (of course) sting pain of a variety of insects from around the world. Schmidt does not shy away from any level of sting pain – be it the tarantula hawk, the velvet ‘ant’, or even the notorious bullet ant. His index of pain, which you can find in the back of the book, provides poetic descriptions of the stings Schmidt has personally experienced in his time as a researcher. While many may pick up Schmidt’s book specifically because of that index, being curious where particular insects might fall in the ranks (a honey bee is a humble two of four, for reference), the book’s chapters are where the real excitement lies.

The book begins with a balance of basic scientific theory (relating to pain and evolution) and personal stories, and while this part is admittedly perhaps not as fast-paced as later chapters, it lays a good foundation. After pushing through the theory, Schmidt presents chapters chock full of the science and daily lives of our insect friends around the world. Schmidt moves through his experiences with (and what science knows about) stingless bees, bullet ants, tarantula hawks, fire and harvester ants, ‘yellow jackets’ and more before leaving us with the honey bee, the stinging insect that seems to frame many of the interactions the public has with Hymenoptera (the order of bees, ants, wasps).

Nyx is skeptical that she will be excited by insects…

Reading about these bugs fills one with awe, curiosity, and perhaps a tinge of fear, and Schmidt does a great job making even the boring parts of being an insect (pupation, for example) seem pretty cool. Schmidt is occasionally a tad repetitive when discussing the life cycles of the insects but overall the story moves at a fast clip; and the ability to skip around between chapters is another bonus for those of us that feel constricted by chronology. There are a lot of ways to enjoy this book.

Not surprisingly, given the fascination we have with pain and the book’s storytelling quality, the book has really taken off with publications as important as the New York Times extolling Schmidt’s tale. So you likely don’t need me to tell you it’s good and worth reading, even for the non-entomologist. This is really what makes Schmidt’s novel so magical: it has such a rare capacity to provide joy to such a wide audience, introducing non-entomologists to the wonder-filled world of insects while still providing enough science and story to engage the more knowledgeable. If you’re looking for a fun, nature-filled read, grab this bright yellow book and prepare to get excited about insects!


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‘Bee’ Reviewed: The Best of the Best from 2003

Nyx: Are you STILL using that picture of me?
Nyx: Are you STILL using that picture of me?

This book, The Best of the Best American Science Writing is just chock-full of what we love on this blog (in case you missed it, that’s science and writing)! If you missed my review of the two essays selected from the year 2002, check it out here – you can see links for the reviews from other prior years at the bottom of this post.

The articles selected from the year 2003 are “Common Ground”, a medical narrative by Danielle Ofri, an MD/PhD and faculty member at NYU School of Medicine, and “The Melody Lingers On” by poet and writer Floyd Skloot, a three time Pushcart Prize winning author. These articles are the hardest to find online – hopefully you’re able to read them. Both are also relatively short and to the point, which I liked after coming across a few very long articles in this book.

Ofri’s “Common Ground” is as much about the ethics of doctor-patient relationships as it is about the ethics of women’s reproductive choice. Ofri’s narrative is about her time working for a Catholic Medical Center – she is required to send patients to their insurance companies for abortion referrals and not participate in the referral process. However when one patient comes in, alone, desperate, and seeking help to find a safe abortion provider, Ofri breaks the rules and helps the woman find somewhere reputable to go; this experience encourages Ofri to form a close relationship with the patient throughout the process of her abortion and, at the end of the narrative, Ofri reflects on why she felt so personally compelled to help the woman receive safe care.

Despite the essay dealing with some very hefty ethical issues (“This Catholic medical institution might choose not to perform abortions, but what about my ethical duty to provide the care my patient needed? Sending a distressed patient to an 800 telephone number would not hold water under the Hippocratic oath.”) the story itself is decidedly unobtrusive. Ofri spends most of her time immersing us in her world – her thoughts and feelings as well as the imagery of the small town she’s in. The ethical issues can fade into the background, an undercurrent as you read a pleasant and fast-paced narrative about life; it is only for short moments that Ofri brings the ethical issues to the forefront of the conversation. I found that refreshing – I could think about the ethical issues on my own terms, without Ofri lambasting me or telling me what to think – and still enjoy a good story with appropriate, if not spectacular, writing.

The story itself revolves around the doctor-patient relationship that develops between these two female characters; it is a touching story of human-centric medicine, even of female bonding. Ofri’s feelings are so clear in both the imagery and her thoughts that I found myself really identifying with her as a character despite the straightforward language of the piece. I would recommend this work for those interested in seeing yet another perspective on the abortion debate, and for those fascinated by the medical profession. If you’re someone who can’t stomach even the idea of an abortion, this essay is definitely not for you.

Floyd Skloot’s essay, “The Melody Lingers On”, is about his mother’s Alzheimer’s Disease and her slow loss of her memories but retention of melody and song.  Skloot’s piece is touching – a mostly reflective piece that dabbles briefly in the science behind why his mother might remember song but not words, Skloot is more interested in evoking emotion, raising awareness, and reminiscing than pushing an ethical, scientific, or social agenda. It is an homage to the woman his mother was before her disease and to the woman she has become toward the end of her life, with both the joys and hardships therein. As you might expect from such a distinguished and celebrated author, Skloot’s piece is really well-written with great pacing and beautiful language. He writes of patience and love and re-learning to connect; the piece is about so much more than science or Alzheimer’s, even if those topics both frame the overall article.

I would recommend Skloot’s essay to anyone interested in learning more about Alzheimer’s more from the human perspective than the neurological perspective. To those very nervous about reading a piece on Alzheimer’s, as many of these articles are very sad, I would say that Skloot’s piece is right for you – the piece does have sad elements, as any kind of story about loss does, but it’s beautifully entangled with joy and new kinds of love. Skloot writes a balanced piece that is very moving while still being a celebration of his mother more than a tear-inducing mess about all she’s lost. While I hesitate to say that Skloot suggests his mother’s dementia is a positive, he certainly looks on the bright side when he can about the new ways he’s found to communicate with her and the moments of joy she’s recently experienced.

Reviews from 2001

Reviews from 2000

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‘Bee’ Reviewed: Joyful Noise

When she looks silliest is when you can best see how cross-eyed she is.

A shout out to my good friend Grace is in order, for giving me this book because “it’s about insects and poetry” which, apparently, defines me.

Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices by Paul Fleischman definitely has a unique structure – the poems are meant to be read aloud by two readers, sometimes alternating, sometimes in a round, sometimes together. It seems like it would create a really lovely “chorus” effect that is perfect for a book about insects, often the background collective accompaniment to our world. Unlike our arthropod buddies, however, I think the book’s voices would require practice to be artful; a cold read with two people would be a bit awkward and stumbling given people’s different reading styles. Because of the childish nature of the book (I’ll get into this more in a bit), I see this working well as a performance piece for a classroom of children or as a frequently-loved bed time story.

The language of the book is really simple and childish and what particularly irritated me was the constant rhyming. I know, I know; rhyme is the red headed stepchild of contemporary poets. It can be done well and with purpose, or it can be done in a sing-songy way; this book had the later. Very few poems paid much attention to sound, surprising given that this book was written to be an auditory experience; there were no moments where I closed my eyes to savor the echo of the words, but “Mayflies” and “Requiem” I thought had the best attention to sound of the lot.

Many of the poems did contain humorous twists at the end, like “Water Striders”, which are perfect for children in that they feel like that overdone moral-of-the-story moment. The poems did get to be pretty repetitive, however, most of them following the “We are ___ insect” format, which got really boring after poem three. I wanted a change in perspective and form to liven things up and distinguish the insects and poems from one another, particularly since the poems were so light on detail, imagery, depth of character/perspective, etc. They really blended together into one giant rhyming song.

Nyx: *Probably looking at a bug outside right now*

The poems contained very few mature concepts, though death and the hunting habits of wasps are brought up in surprisingly gruesome detail (when juxtaposed with the rhyming, immature poetic style and likely intended audience). Still, it was very basic scientific information throughout – book lice eat books, mayflies don’t live very long, water striders walk on water (with no mention of how or why). Overall, it’s a good book to introduce children to the idea of insects in a comfortable, non-threatening way, given that insects are often viewed as a scary foe. This book definitely works to combat that perspective with a light-hearted, positive spin on our insect friends.

The book has some gorgeous illustrations throughout, thanks to illustrator Eric Beddows, so even if you’re an adult it would make this book fun to flip through in the store. The poems “Book Lice” and “Requiem” were my favorites; the humor in “Book Lice” (despite the childish imagery and language) was amusing to a word nerd like me and “Requiem” was perhaps the most grown-up poem; it stuck out to me as something different and thus enjoyable. If you’re looking for a book to read with kids, give it a go; otherwise, I’d tell adults to pass on Joyful Noise.

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‘Bee’ Mentioned: DJ Ecotone

DJ Ecotone 2
Nyx turning her face away to 1) ignore me because she hates me and 2) listen better to the sick beats of the big katz

Alright, it’s honestly not conceivable for me to review this choice because I’ve got nothing to compare it to – but I wanted to mention this artist and project and ‘review’ it in terms of my fascination with this work. So today on ‘Bee’ reviewed mentioned is DJ Ecotone (twitter).

Ben Mirin is awesome; self described, he’s a “Wildlife recordist + music producer = Wildlife DJ”. He travels the world, recording animals (and himself, beatboxing) in various habitats and then making some crazy, ephemeral (my words) jams. When I listen to them, even out of my terrible laptop speakers, I feel immersed in a different world. My favorite of the four Mirin has on his website is the ‘Great Barrier Reef’. I know a lot of wildlife music can sound like a meditation tape, but Mirin’s music goes way past that – it’s upbeat, with none of that generic ‘I’m a calling bird’ feeling, and it connects you with a number of different animal sounds. It asks you to listen and pick out the voices of nature, not forget the world and go into yourself.

Yeah, I think it’s a really neat project. So does the world – Mirin is the creator and host of Nat Geo Wild and National Geographic Kids WILD BEATS, is a Fellow at the Safina Center, and the 2016 Artist in Residence at the Bronx Zoo. According to his website bio, “As a professional DJ he creates custom wildlife shows for National Geographic Events, The Bronx Zoo, the New York Botanical Garden, and various universities, scientific institutions, and nonprofits…[he] has been recognized with two grants from the National Geographic Society and previous art residencies at the National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bangalore and the Lurie Garden at the Chicago Art Institute”.

If that wasn’t enough to have on your plate, he’s also a volunteer bird guide and instructor at the NY Audubon Society, and a natural sounds recordist at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and, before making music, he was a freelance science journalist for Slate.com, Smithsonian Magazine online, Scientific American Online, Audubon Magazine online, and other publications.

I’d definitely recommend you head over to his website, or soundcloud, and look into the music. It’s strange at first, as our encounters with the natural world in this day and age often are, but it’s also a rare communion with natural spaces we don’t generally have access to.

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‘Bee’ Reviewed: The Best of the Best from 2002

Nyx: Are you STILL using that picture of me?
Nyx: Are you STILL using that picture of me?

This book, The Best of the Best American Science Writing is just chock-full of what we love on this blog (in case you missed it, that’s science and writing)! If you missed my review of the two essays selected from the year 2000, check it out here, or my review of the two essays from 2001 here.

The two essays selected from 2002 were “Dr. Daedalus” by Lauren Slater and “The Soft Science of Dietary Fat” by Gary Taubes. Slater’s piece follows Dr. Joe Rosen, a renowned plastic surgeon with grandiose notions about altering the human form – wings, eyes with binoculars inside, etc. The piece speaks to what it means to be human, and continuously reasserts that our identity is shaped by our appearance. Slater’s work is definitively narrative, even as she discusses the ethical quandaries of modifying the human form ‘without cause’; she uses dialogue, scene, and reflection to communicate Rosen’s, the public’s, and her own ideas about the ethics of body modification.

The piece is long but truly beautifully written, filled with beautiful imagery, great characterization, and more. It’s more a work of art than the ‘journalistic’ style pieces from the first two reviews. I will say that Slater bites off more than she can chew in this essay – she tries to cover a lot of ground and ends up getting muddled in the process. But it’s a fascinating, and really well-written, look at where the cutting edge of medical science could take us and why the public should be concerned, or excited, for this future.

I found Taubes’s piece to be mind-blowing in an every-American-should-read-this sort of way. Taubes’s piece is traditional journalistic style with very little narrative structure or reflection; the content of the piece is so fascinating, you are quickly enthralled anyway. The essay is a historical account of how Americans came to fear fat in their diets when there is no scientific support (or even consensus) on the matter. The piece describes how politicians, the press, and the public, clamoring for ‘simple, healthy diet advice’ pushed past the bounds of current knowledge to accept what was little more than an urban legend as fact (it reminds me a bit of this piece I wrote about how the public and press still demand the wrong things from science).

Taubes’s piece is incredibly complete in its research, so dedicated to understanding both the scientific and historical nuance that clouds this particular issue. The science and the politics, which can be difficult to understand due to their complexity, are both given the time and attention necessary to make a reader of every level of familiarity with those systems comfortable. The piece is engaging, informative, and fast-paced because there’s suspense in wondering how a completely unsupported scientific theory came to be widely held as a fact. While Taubes does not offer his opinion throughout the piece, there seems to be a lesson to be learned here about how the public, in its quest for simple answers, can distort science (and then blame science for not being ‘truthful’); we must all be more careful when we make demands of science to make sure we understand what can be known and what is actually known before we start asking for easy answers.


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‘Bee’ Reviewed: Biology Coloring Book

Biology Coloring Book 2
Nyx is fundamentally confused by coloring books, being black and white herself.

It has been an odd month on ‘bee’ reviewed to be sure; articles, games, and now coloring books – oh my! Don’t worry, in two weeks we depart even further from the norm for Halloween!

The Biology Coloring Book by Robert D. Griffin was a gift from my brother for Christmas and boy is it a genius idea. Coloring, particularly of small areas that require concentration like adult coloring books provide, has been shown to relieve stress in anxious college students – as a formerly anxious college student and now anxious grad student, I would spend many a post-final hour coloring to work out the stress.

What’s cool about The Biology Coloring Book is that you could actually use it before the final, not after. The left side of each spread is filled with coloring instructions that also give you pretty detailed, if succinct, information on topics from the ER, transcription, biogeochemical cycles, and anatomy. With 111 topics covered, there’s a lot of information in here! If you’re looking for help passing freshman bio (nothing more advanced) without bashing your head against a desk from the soul-crushing stress you’re experiencing (am I projecting?), this could be the book for you. There are even about twenty diagrams relating to basic chemistry (atoms, molecules, etc) so you can share with your stressed-out chemistry major friends.

Biology Coloring Book 1
This picture taken with assistance from the invisible fiance.

The drawbacks are, of course, that the diagrams are really detailed and thus not very fun to color. Sometimes the coloring ‘instructions’ can be a bit confusing and hard to follow (they’ve got a lot of small letter/symbol notation). If you’re doing anything more complex than freshman bio, this book is too brief to cover it for you (but hey, it never claimed to be a textbook)! Overall, it’s a fun concept and a great gift for any biology student you know to help them work through those first-year studying blues. I would recommend purchasing a large set of colored pencils and a really nice sharpener – there are several diagrams that require many, many colors (in my opinion).

While the detailed diagrams may not be the most fun to color, there is the additional benefit that they’re really helpful for showing you the concept (and helping you understand what’s going on). If you need a diagram to go along with a textbook explanation, this coloring book could prove surprisingly useful. All around, a fun book with a myriad of uses from stress relief to supplemental educational materials.

Best coloring pages include: animal cell (pictured on the cover), plant cell, prokaryotic cell, the fluid mosaic model, nucleus + ER, mitochondria + chloroplast, introduction to genetics, Mendel’s peas, DNA replication, transcription, protein synthesis, Charles Darwin, natural selection we can see, kingdoms of the living world, communities

Worst coloring pages: Sex linked characteristics III, ecological pyramids (literal boxes)

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‘Bee’ Reviewed: 50 Mathematical Ideas

50 Mathematical Ideas 1
Nyx finds math to be very confusing.

Okay, so this was a bargain book I picked up because it had the word ‘topology’ on the back and I had very recently become faintly aware of how neat this area of math actually is. The book has some cool features (timeline to accompany each concept, good graphs and illustrations), but unfortunately I’m not going to be able to recommend it on the basis of:

  1. Poor, confusing writing
  2. Too many ‘obvious’ concepts
  3. Little depth to each concept

To the first point, Crilly struggles with syntax. Consider the sentence “It was a clever each way bet”; it makes one pause. A better construction would be “It was a clever bet, either way” or “Either way, it was a clever bet”. This is one simple example of poor sentence structure; when we get math entangled with this poor writing, it makes the book far too easy to put down.

I think this book also really struggles with knowing its audience. Crilly obviously isn’t trying to appeal to mathematicians, but he includes concepts that nearly everyone knows alongside concepts more foreign to the average reader. There are very few readers who don’t already understand what a number system (or literally zero) is who also want to learn about Riemann’s zeta function. Crilly could have done a book about the five things you need to know and given us more story (and math!) to boot. And unfortunately, story would’ve been really helpful because the book was a tad bit dry. I relished the bits of history and humor when they were included and would have loved more and for the story to be woven in with the math instead of plopped down ungracefully in separate chunks.

50 Mathematical Ideas 3
Nyx is mostly concerned with the taste and smell of math.

I will say that math and physics are the areas of science where I am most uneasy. When I wrote a collaborative piece on mosaic knot theory for my undergraduate Neuwrite/edu chapter, I worked with a brilliant mathematician and physicist. It still took us nearly a year for me to write our piece; an essay that shied away from the math whenever possible in favor of telling a story. Math has never been my main love or interest, but I wonder if wrapping math/science in stories might ease the terror many people feel when encountering theoretical math concepts and broaden everyone’s mathematical horizons. Clearly, that was not Crilly’s intention here, so I can’t really fault him for not doing that – after all, ’50 Mathematical Ideas’ will clearly be some kind of a list. Still, it was clear to me that this format was part of the reason I found the book to be disengaging.

What I would recommend this book for is a quick scan of the back cover – find the five things you don’t know much about and spend the afternoon researching those things instead of reading this whole book. Personally, I recommend topology, fractals, the travelling salesperson, relativity, and the parallel postulate (which encompasses non-Euclidean geometry!).

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‘Bee’ Reviewed: Pandemic

Nyx: Does this box make me look too small?

Today we’re reviewing something a  bit different on ‘Bee’ Reviewed – a board game! Pandemic is the brainchild of Matt Leacock. The game is a great example of integrating science and culture, and it’s also a super fun game you can play with kids (teaching them that they, too, can be a scientist or researcher!).

Pandemic is a cooperative game, meaning that all the players are on the same team, working together to beat a very difficult game; this style is pretty non-traditional as the average best-selling tabletop games (Monopoly, Life, Stratego, etc) are all competitive. This mirrors the cooperative structure of science – we build on the works of others and must work together to succeed. In the game, you play as a team of medics, pilots, researchers, and scientists (each with your own special ability) working to stop four diseases from taking over the world by finding cures. If you’ve ever played Plague Inc, this game was the precursor to that app and is multi-player (up to four people, the recommended age being 10+). Together you treat disease, research cures, build research stations, and travel the world to stop… a pandemic.

Beyond being a ton of fun and, because of the element of chance, having a very different game each time you play, Pandemic reinforces the importance of science to our modern society and health. The game also builds communication skills and the ability to think several steps ahead and describe that logic. It pushes people to take risks because you can only be so certain that something will work, but be all in on that risk together. It’s a great game for families to play together and bond but it also mirrors so many of the ways the scientific community actually functions (without boring you with real virology). The only way you could dislike this game is if you’re fundamentally opposed to not being competitive or are a super troll in real life (in which case people will hate you for spoiling their attempts at team work and you should politely go back into your cave and leave them alone to yell at people on the internet).

One of my favorite things about Pandemic is that it shows scientists and researchers, logic and strategy and knowledge, saving the world. I know it’s just a game, but it might be nice if knowledge and logic and science were given a little more world-saving appreciation in the modern era (over punching people or superpowers). Pandemic aims to do just that while simultaneously providing you and your team mates with many, many hours of fun for only $25.

The only thing I can fault this game for is that it has a lot of small pieces – you wouldn’t want to play in areas with very small children, who might try eating the pretty disease-cubes and choke. But other than the mess of cubes, that you’re almost certain to lose one or two of over time, the game itself is well designed, easy to learn, and pretty fast to play (for a cooperative game). The game has several levels, ranging from Novice to Legendary, so you can even ‘customize’ game play based on how tired you’re feeling when you sit down to start.

Not convinced? Watch this episode of Tabletop with Wil Wheaton to see all the fun you’re missing.

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‘Bee’ Reviewed: The Best of the Best from 2001

She's really not as tiny as this picture makes her look...
She’s really not as tiny as this picture makes her look…

This book, The Best of the Best American Science Writing is just chock-full of what we love on this blog (in case you missed it, that’s science and writing)! If you missed my first review of the two essays selected from the year 2000, check it out here.

The year 2001 had two philosophical essays – “Bioscience, Guided by Ethics, Can Lift Up the Poor” by Freeman J. Dyson and “Darwin’s Influence on Modern Thought” by the late evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayer.

Dyson’s essay was short and, in my opinion, inspirational if frustratingly vague. It was the kind of sweeping rhetoric one expects to see at a political convention – lots of grand statements, few practical applications, even fewer facts. The essay begins by explaining that there are two kinds of technology – green and grey – and that we are about to see a switch from grey technology domination (for the last 3000 years) to green technology domination.

Dyson makes it clear that he believes green technology could be a great equalizer, eradicating global poverty and creating sustainable environmental practices but not that it will do any of these things. He urges scientists, business leaders, and religious leaders to work together to promote ethics in association with green technology – the only guiding ethical principles he gives us are that the free market must not extend to human genes and that biological warfare is to be avoided. While I found the essay to be inspirational, galvanizing me to want to take action in a new and uncertain technological future, I also found it to lack application and thus usefulness. Luckily, the essay is a short call to action and thus you don’t waste time searching for practice when there is only theory. If you’re looking for something to pump you up before you volunteer to save the world, this essay is it.

Mayr’s essay is much harder to get through, using more dense terminology than Dyson’s essay; personally, I struggled to get through his section on a new philosophy of biology but adored the rest of the essay about Darwin’s influence on modern thought (and may just write a blog post about it!). The essay isn’t revolutionary in it’s content, more in it’s concept. Those of us who recently underwent any public schooling would be able to infer most of what Mayr is saying about how Darwin impacted the world. What seems to make this essay so important is that Mayr actually does say it, and all in one place. According to Mayr, Darwin has had a profound impact on religious thought, predetermination, our understanding of the ‘Perfect Cause’ (a philosophical idea since Aristotle), racism and typology, and more.

Mayr’s essay can get wordy – he is particularly prone to longer sentences. However, Mayr generally makes sure that when he introduces new terminology that he gives adequate time to explain it’s meaning (for example essentialism or teleology). Most readers will enjoy learning how Darwin has so drastically shaped our worldview in only 150 years; according to Mayr, he accomplished a lot in that time. His dedication to every reader’s understanding makes this essay a worthwhile undertaking for all readers, recently introduced to Darwinism or well acquainted.

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