A collection of solid science writing celebrating a diversity of topics, writer credentials and styles.
Among other topics, readers will discover that the Dutch East India Company colonized South Africa with farmers to supply their ships with scurvy-preventing produce on their way to Asia. Editor Ouellette (The Calculus Diaries: How Math Can Help You Lose Weight, Win in Vegas, and Survive a Zombie Apocalypse, 2010, etc.) also includes entries on ecology (including gems by Deborah Blum and Carl Zimmer); genetics (e.g., a wonderful essay explaining gene sequencing by molecular biologist Richard Winkle); Ethiopian “church forests,” virtual Edens that surround churches in an otherwise bleak landscape; how sperm corkscrew their way to their targets; how to finance star travel; and an essay on what constitutes a scientist’s “greatness.” The editor draws many of the pieces from the blogging network of the Scientific American, and often the contributor’s background and academic and/or publishing history provide assurance of factual accuracy—but not always peerless editing. With the independence and free spirit that characterizes blogging, the role of the editor may be lost, and some of the pieces are overwritten. In a provocative piece, journalist David Dobbs argues for an end to the delays of peer review, as well as the exclusivity and costs of publishing papers in revered science journals. He opts instead for open access online, and he blames researchers for hewing to the outdated print journal model.
Proof that science writing online is healthy and growing. For naive surfers, an anthology like this will help separate the wheat from the chaff.