In these days of fake news and pseudoscience triumphant, it seems almost quaint to read actual science from real and accountable news sources, but it is still a worthy effort. The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2016 is a collection of the best articles and essays from American newspapers, magazines and journals.
There is always variety in these anthologies, but I thought the addition of “The Modern Moose” by Amy Leach was particularly brilliant. It’s a humorous piece with an imaginative whimsy that might disqualify it in many people’s eyes. I thought it was perfect. I also appreciated the inclusion of an essay by Oliver Sacks acknowledging that he would soon by dying and looking at the periodic table as a timeline of his life.
More typical articles focused on climate change. “The Siege of Miami” by Elizabeth Kolbert was so alarming I dreamed about the eventual disappearance of Miami underwater. Several I had read during the year, including the incredibly important “The False Gospel of Alcoholics Anonymous” by Gabrielle Glaser in The Atlantic. I have shared that original article a dozen times or more in hopes that people will stop believing AA propaganda and look to science where there is real success. The New York Times article on nail salons is included, an article that had an immediate effect in prompting changed regulations in the city.
One article was very discomfiting. “Begin Cutting” by Gaurav Raj Telhan is an essay by a former medical student describing the students’ semester long relationship with a donated cadaver used to teach medical students about the human body. My parents and my sister’s bodies have gone to this program and I have done the paperwork for myself. It was good to see how helpful and necessary it is, but still…gross!
It is impossible to read every great article on science and nature, so there is no better option than at least reading the annual anthology of some of the best. Science is under siege. The far right attacks science in the service of fossil fuel and chemical industries, enabling further environmental degradation and destruction. The far left attacks science in the service of counterfactual conspiracists who fear vaccines and peer-reviewed medicine and advancements in agriculture, but in the service of alternative medicine industries that are every bit as financially invested in discrediting science as the Koch brothers.
This year, as in every year, there is a wide selection of timely and important articles. This year, as in every year, many of them focus on the increasing urgency of climate change. Sadly, this year, as in every year, more than half of Americans will continue to deny settled science because facing reality might demand they do something about it.
Amy Stewart edited the 2016 edition of The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2016. I was familiar with her for her historical detective novel Girl Waits With Gun so I was a bit puzzled by the choice until I learned she wrote The Drunken Botanist, a book about the plants used to make alcohol, Wicked Plants, about plants that attack, poison, and kill people, and several other science books about bugs, flowers, and the like. Her selections were wide-ranging, original and diverse, making for an excellent annual review.
- The Best American Science and Nature Writing forum for nomination and discussion
- The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2016 at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
- The American Best Science and Nature Writing series at HMH
- The Best American series at HMH
- Amy Stewart web site