I'm not sure how to best sum up The Open Laboratory: The Best in Science Writing on Blogs 2009. Is it a treasure trove of awesome science geekery that will prompt dozens of cool conversations on a wide variety of topics? A handy "Follow that Blogger" guide that should get its first spine-breaks while you use it to update your RSS feed and browser bookmarks? Or, maybe, it's a giant middle finger to all the nose-in-the-air naysayers who think real science journalism only happens on dead trees.
"All of the above" is such a nice phrase, isn't it?
This is actually the 4th annual edition of The Open Laboratory, which is the brainchild of Bora Zivkovic, a scientist, science blogger and kind of a den papa for science blogging worldwide. Besides The Open Laboratory, he also organizes the ScienceOnline conferences and is the online community manager at the Public Library of Science—which you probably know best as the publishers of the open-access science journal PLoS One.
In the New Media Wars, Zivkovic is decidedly a blogging partisan. But The Open Laboratory is more than just propaganda for the idea of turning science communication over to scientists, and science-oriented journalists, on the Web (though it works pretty damn well as that). It's also a fun, enlightening read that's bound to have a little something for everybody who loves science wrapped up in its 52 blog posts selected by editor, and science blogger, Scicurious.
Bonus: The segmented nature of the book makes it a great read for commuting. I read a decent chunk while riding the Minneapolis #6 bus.
Some of my favorite entries:
Cosmopithecus, in which astronaut physician Michael Barratt ponders the way weightlessness alters the human body. His particular focus is on the feet. In space, your seldom-used soles slough off their calluses and toes become tools for grasping and picking up objects. When astronauts return to Earth, they're accompanied by calluses on the tops of their feet—formed by constant contact with foot restraints—and faced with the prospect of walking on delicate, newborn skin, like a princess with a pea in her shoe.
Bittersweet: A heartwrenching story from the Whitecoat Tales blog about what happens when the mundane daily life of a medical student intersects with a family tragedy.
Betting on the Poor Boy—a great article by Mark Liberman, Ph.D., analyzing an Economist story about the way the stresses of poverty impact brain development. Liberman takes a typical news-article paraphrasing of study data—Group X is more likely to do something than Group Y—and explains why you have to look more sharply at the numbers to get the real story, and why linguistics is just as important as statistics. This is something I'll definitely be keeping in mind as I work.
Blood and Brains—can vampires survive a zombie apocalypse? This one kind of speaks for itself, but I was surprised to learn that the standard "Vampires are Impossible" proof—if they did exist, we'd all be vampires within two years—can be challenged simply by taking into account vampire death rates. In fact, Andrew of the Southern Fried Science blog points to a 2009 paper that figures a town of 36,000 humans could support a standing population of 18 vampires.
The Open Laboratory 2009 is available in print form, or as a Kindle-compatible PDF. Both versions are on Lulu.com.
Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book from series editor Bora Zivkovic. That said, I receive a lot of free review copies of books. I only tell you about the ones I think you really need to read.
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.