Everything I Learned from the Best American Science and Nature Writing This Year

Ha, ha, just kidding. How could I possibly enumerate every single thing that I learned from this year’s edition of the Best American Science and Nature Writing? Impossible! I have already forgotten most of it! My brain is a leaky sieve and I am lucky even to remember my blog password in order to log in and write this post!

Best American Science and Nature Writing

I read this as part of the #24in48 Readathon, which was great except that right as I got to the end and I was all like “nailed it, book finished, no more science to be learned here,” and then they had an appendix with a list of like twenty more science articles to look up and read. I haven’t done it yet BUT I WILL. My thirst for science information is vast and all-consuming.

Or, okay, my thirst for science information is quenched by periodically reading a bunch of pop science journal articles, but like, better than nothing, right? And there’s no need for judgment anyway! Don’t you want to hear what all I learned? With links?

From Rose Eveleth’s “Why Are Sports Bras So Terrible,” I learned that there are many many obstacles in the way of us getting awesome sports bras, and one of them is that companies don’t want to sell sports bras in which women don’t look adorable BECAUSE APPARENTLY WE HAVE TO JUST LOOK CUTE ALL THE TIME GODDAMMIT.

I did not exactly learn about AA’s evidence problem by reading Gabrielle Glaser’s “The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous,” but it reminded me how frustrating I find it that as a society we’re weirdly unwilling to consider alternative treatments for addiction than this one that’s ineffective for the majority of people who use it because it’s basically church.

By contrast, I had no idea that bed rest for pregnant ladies wasn’t backed by science. Apparently it’s NOT. Or so says “The Bed-Rest Hoax,” by Alexandra Kleeman. Gasp.

From Charles Mann’s “Solar, Eclipsed,” I learned a bit more about national efforts in India to figure out how to get electricity to the many rural areas that don’t reliably have it. The Modi government was for a time the darling of the renewable energy crowd for its apparent commitment to solar energy (although NOT the darling of the religious liberty crowd, given Modi’s Hindu nationalism, I understand? idk correct me if I’m wrong), but has since shifted more to the use of coal energy (eek).

For some reason I thought the only nail salon scoop we had recently was about the terrible pay in nail salons in New York. But no, Sarah Maslin Nir’s “Perfect Nails, Poisoned Workers,” has made me feel that regardless of pay conditions at any given nail salon, it’s still p. unethical to go there. Because the nail salon workers apparently all have horrific health problems as a result of the terrible nail chemicals. This is exactly why I stopped eating microwave popcorn, guys.

Rinku Patel’s “Bugged” taught me something I am now furious I haven’t seen in science fiction stories: Astronauts have immune system problems when they get back from space! Space is too sterile! Astronauts get home from space and their systems are all screwed up and their immune systems go haywire and produce wacko allergies out of nowhere. Get on this, SF.

In bleak and terrifying news, Kathryn Schulz’s “The Really Big One” told me that the Pacific Northwest is going to absolutely have a massive earthquake and it’s going to be devastating and we’re not prepared. It was scary af. Also, I learned that the length of time an earthquake lasts is a reasonable proxy for how severe an earthquake it is. Y’all California people probably all knew that already but I am an earthquake noob. I only know hurricanes.

Anyway, thanks, science. I am sad about some things and excited about other things. I guess that is the fate of deeply engaged science learners like myself.

  • Jeanne

    Bed rest is definitely hard on the back–and I’m encouraged to get up and shuffle around with the walker every hour!

  • BRB gotta go buy this

  • JeanPing

    Come to think of it, that’s true about earthquakes. The little ones don’t last any amount of time at all. I’m a weird anomaly — having lived in California for pretty much my entire life, I’ve only ever actually felt one very minor earthquake. Always been at the other end of the state for the big earthquakes. And we aren’t really prepared for any of the Big Ones. The Hayward fault (which runs all along the densely populated East Bay) will go big one of these days, and they won’t have any water, and that will be very interesting, but do we do anything about that? Nah.

  • Christy

    I think I don’t want to know why microwave popcorn is bad. I like it so much.
    The article about alcoholism and AA was really interesting – it’s amazing how much we can cling to methods and solutions that have no scientific basis.
    Regarding earthquakes, years ago I went to a cartography conference and someone had a presentation that mapped the impact of an earthquake-triggered tsunami on a peninsula in Oregon. The cartography depicted how many minutes it would take for people at different parts of the peninsula to run to high ground. For some parts it was too many minutes – the tsunami would already be there. The cartographers’ job was not to solve this problem but to depict the reality for state government, but they still discussed some possible solutions in the presentation. One solution would be to build artificial high grounds in the places furthest from current high ground. Another recommendation was to encourage fitness among residents on the peninsula **so they could run faster**. It was a very sobering presentation.

  • I love the Best American series, but I ALWAYS forget about this particular entry. Which is ridiculous, because iI love good science writing. These all sound amazing, must buy immediately.

  • Alley

    Well now I want to read ALL OF THESE so thank you for the links.

  • I read the Best Science and Nature writing 2014 and I loved it, so I don’t know why I’ve not gotten to any of the other books in the series. My only excuse is that it’s physically impossible for me to read all of the things I want to read 🙂 Thanks for the awesome highlights from this one!

  • Science can be so interesting or completely depressing, can’t it?
    Funny there should be an article about nail salons – I’ve never been to one, but my daughter went with one of her friends… and it got me wondering about the health of the people working there. When my kids put nail polish on, I have to go around opening all the windows!
    I had no idea about astronaut’s immune system. Are they trying to keep it as some kind of secret?
    I read a book called The Biology of Desire by Marc Lewis, and it was about addictions and how the brain works – very interesting!