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I read and review this series every year. What a great collection of articles Kaku selected! And this time, they don't follow the trend in recent years toward "soft" science. That doesn't mean it's hard to read, either.
Out of tens of hundreds of articles series editor Jesse Cohen sent to editor (and self-proclaimed science junkie) Michio Kaku, Kaku chose 23. He ordered the articles in this fashion: 1st - human biology, 2nd - the environment, 3rd - the space program, 4th - the universe, and 5th - where science collides with religion and sensitive societal issues.
*one of my favorites - "Mending the Youngest Hearts" by Gretchen Vogel, from "Science": Some babies are born with only one pumping chamber instead of two. They receive staged operations, starting, in part, with a new route from the inferior vena cava (IVC) to the pulmonary artery. Unfortunately, it has to be redone since the shunt won't grow with the child. Using stem cells, resorbing shunts, and multidisciplinary science, the new vessel now grows with the patient. Surprisingly, although the stem cells help get things started, they then disappear. The nonbiological part does, too, and the new vessel is eventually made from cells from the patient's own IVC.
*one of my favorites - "An Immune System Trained to Kill Cancer" by Denise Grady, from the "New York Times": More multidisciplinary science. Disabled HIV virus carries cancer-fighting genes into the patient's own T-cells. Doctors are using gene therapy to train a person's own immune system to kill cancer cells. It was a "Hail Mary" experimental treatment for Mr. Ludwig, who had chronic lymphocytic leukemia and was almost dead. Now he is in complete remission.
"X-Rays and Unshielded Infants" by Rebelo and Bogdanich, from the "New York Times": Some hospitals are still doing "baby-grams," even though they have been largely discredited because of concerns about the potential harm of radiation on the young.
*one of my favorites - "Aging Genes" by Jennifer Couzin-Frankel, from "Science": Does red wine and caloric restriction slow down aging? Does it do this in people, or just mice? And does it do this through the "sirtuin" gene? Can an investment in a start-up company sold in 2008 for $720 million introduce bias in the researchers? Fans of the late Thomas Kuhn, author of "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions", will love this article.
*one of my favorites - "Taming the Wild" by Even Ratliff, from "National Geographic": I read about this some years ago. Complete with Stalin's and Lysenko's (and even Khrushchev's) war against science, this is an update on a project started over fifty years ago by researchers in Russia who had to hide their work. They set out to tame foxes. With each generation of kits, they tested their reactions to human contact, selecting those most approachable - and least approachable - to breed for the next generation. To support their work, they sold the "intermediates" to a fur farm. After only a few generations, they were wildly successful - far beyond their expectations, and extended the work to mink and rats. Then the hard part - searching for the genes.
"Beautiful Brains" by David Dobbs, from "National Geographic": Why are teenagers, well, teenagers? Why do they act so badly? Is it "dark forces"? Aristotle said "the young are heated by Nature as drunken men by wine." According to the author, they realize their behavior is risky, but, to them, it's worth it. Our brains undergo a massive reorganization between the ages of 12 and 25. There's some interesting neurology and brain scanning information in this article. If Obama read it, it may have influenced him in his recent advocacy of a "brain-mapping initiative".
"Criminal Minds" by Josh Fischman, from the "Chronicle of Higher Education": oops - I started reading this book from back to front, then switched from front to back and found 5 articles I haven't read, starting here. I'll read them, and review them and the rest of the articles in edits.
*my very favorite - "Stellar Oddballs" by Charles Petit, from "Science News": William Borucki spent decades fighting against great skepticism to build an orbiting instrument so sensitive it would detect planets when and if they briefly cross their stars' face. "Kepler" was launched in 2009. In an orbit slightly further from the sun than the earth, Kepler makes one trip around the sun every 372 days, gradually falling further behind earth. It keeps its lenses on hoards of stars, checking for planets. NASA is contractually obligated to study only these planets, and when this article was written, they had already found 1200. But they have also found so much unexpected data about stars, they are begging other astrophysicists to analyze the data. "The vibrations of stars offer details about their internal structures, like a symphony's sound reveals the composition of the orchestra."
This is the best edition of "Best American Science Writing" since I started reading it in 2003. I'm suddenly an even bigger fan of Michio Kaku.