I didn’t expect the post griping about the Best American Science Writing anthology to generate as much discussion as it did. Shows what I know.
In comments, “bsci” made a good suggestion:
Instead of complaining about this volume, I’d love it if you and your readers made a list of the best physics writing in the past year. I assure you that I would be one of many readers of the pieces on the list.
That’s a good suggestion, so let’s put it out there: What were the best articles about physical sciences published last year? These could be in general magazines (The New Yorker, etc.), in science magazines (Scientific American, Seed, etc.), in books, or on blogs and other online media. “Physical Sciences” here means, well, anything that would go in the “Physical Sciences” channel here on ScienceBlogs– physics, chemistry, geology, mathematics, computer science. Basically, anything that isn’t biomedical, as those were pretty well covered already.
A few suggestions from me, with one important caveat:
The caveat is this: I don’t particularly care for the story formula that tends to make it into these anthologies. Articles that alternate between tiny snippets of science and “quirky” anecdotes about scientists get real old, real fast. If you ask me to restrict my suggestions to New Yorker style articles, it’s going to be a real short list.
My preference in writing about science, particularly physics, is for pieces that offer straightforward explanations of interesting phenomena. So, for example, I thought the Wineland and Monroe Scientific American article on ion trap quantum computing was excellent.
In the comments to the original post, Bee joked that one of her pieces at Backreaction should’ve been picked. It would never make it with the Best American editors, but I did think her post about what mini-black holes at the LHC would really do was terrific. It’s a great antidote to the constant fearmongering seen elsewhere.
Finally, for something a little out of the ordinary, I thought Rhett’s Dot Physics post on videogame physics was fantastic. It provides a great look at both the detailed practice of basic physics, and also the mindset of a scientist. Science, at its most basic, is applied curiosity, and this post does a great job of showing how that works.
So, there are three examples of writing about physical sciences that stuck with me from the last year. What were your favorite pieces?