Having misplaced my anti-narcissism drugs earlier this week, I can’t see any reason not to usurp the year-end retrospective trope and look back at some of what I’ve most enjoyed writing in 2011. I don’t maintain that the stories listed below are objectively my best work—that’s for others to decide. But these are my favorites, for reasons I’ll try to note briefly.
A great many of them appeared here on “The Gleaming Retort” at PLoS Blogs. And why wouldn’t they? PLoS Blogs was kind enough to invite me to be one of its writers when the site debuted. It gave me complete freedom to write what and how I wishes, and it let me bask in the elevating company of Steve Silberman, Deborah Blum, David Kroll, Daniel Lende and Greg Downey, Peter Janiszewski and Travis Saunders, Misha Angrist, Martin Fenner, Melinda Wenner Moyer, Sarah Kavassilis, Seth Mnookin, Shara Yurkiewicz, Hillary Rosner, Emily Anthes, and Jessica Wapner, along with (pause for breath) the contributors to EveryONE, PLoS Podcast, Speaking of Medicine, The Official PLoS Blog, The Guest Blog, and The Student Blog—as accomplished, gifted, smart and warm a group of writers and people as you’ll find anywhere in the science blogosphere. (And no, I don’t always count writers as people. Why? Because I’m an editor, and I’ve watched writers eat.)
So let’s start with what my favorites for PLos Blogs and proceed in no particular order thereafter.
For “The Gleaming Retort”
- How IBM’s Watson Computer Excels at Jeopardy! (Feb. 14) and Not-So-Elementary Watson: What IBM’s Jeopardy! Computer Means for Turing Tests and the Future of Artificial Intelligence (Feb. 15). I pulled together this information about Watson initially to satisfy my own curiosity, but the posts that arose from it seems to have been useful to others as well.
- Oz, the Great and Gullible (Mar. 15). Perhaps Dr. Oz’s apparently vindicated attack on apple juice has raised your opinion of him? It shouldn’t. Even a broken quack is right twice a day.
- Royal Weddings and Bee Mixers (Apr. 29). I wrote this instead of watching the festivities.
- The Rapture of Daylight Saving Time (May 17). Harold Camping did not think it through.
- Great Moments in Science Writing: The Alpha Cavewoman Fiasco (June 2). More Great Moments in Science Writing are surely to come.
- WTF Weather: Wichita Heat Burst (June 12). Because everybody talks about the weather but nobody blogs anything about it.
- Expelled’s Creationism is Bankrupt but Persistent (and Politically Connected) (June 13). The schadenfreude-iest.
- The Inhuman Response to Rebecca Watson (July 7). Rebecca was right, but many people turn out to be dedicated to their insensitivity.
For Scientific American
- The Immortal Ambitions of Ray Kurzweil: A Review of Transcendent Man (Feb. 15). I was fair to it.
- The Evolutionary Errors of X-Men (June 3). Catching science errors in a superhero movie is shooting fish in a barrel, I admit. But this assignment also allowed me to write More Science and Snark on X-Men: First Class (June 3) for “The Gleaming Retort,” which was worth it if only for the chance to write the following paragraph: “Helping him is January Jones as the world’s most powerful mind-reading lingerie model. In the blink of an eye, she can also change into a diamond-hard crystalline figure, then back to her original wooden form. She hates mankind—I think that expression is supposed to be hate—though to be fair, if I were a lingerie model and could read minds, I’d probably hate mankind, too.”
- The Ice That Burns: Are Methane Hydrates the Next Big Resource? (May 27), along with a companion post for “The Gleaming Retort,” Energy from Methane Hydrates: Better to Burn Out than Fade Away (June 1). A fascinating potential energy source that I imagine we’ll be hearing about much more in a few years, for better or worse.
- Lead Zeppelin: Can Airships Overcome Past Disasters and Rise Again? (June 30), which has two companion pieces here at PLoS Blogs, Does Global Warming Help the Case for Airships? (July 13) and Zeppelin Disappointments, Airship Woes (July 23). I’ve been wondering about the future of airships for a couple of decades; these stories finally gave me an occasion to investigate it.
- Cancer and Dogs: One Pet’s Tale (Aug. 31). This article is probably the most personal published writing I did all year, along with JR Minkel, You Are Missed Already (Jan. 29), of course. Newman was a good dog.
- Google’s Driverless Car Has Its Head in the Cloud (Nov. 3). Matt Van Dusen, who is both my friend and the editor of Txchnologist, suggested this assignment to me, and it was the perfect occasion to pull together some thoughts on the subject I’d accumulated.
- Sunken Treasure: The Deep Sea Mining Renaissance (Dec. 5). Ever wonder what happened to the idea of mining minerals from the seafloor, which was big in the 1970s? It never entirely went away.
- Climate disasters: quibbling over causes (Nov. 15). Even well-meaning people sometimes get much too particular about acknowledging that, yes, climate change does cause disasters. And speaking of causes…
- Mind games on global warming (Dec. 6). Politics is a far more immediate cause of the impasse on climate policy than psychology is.
- Cloning vs. conservation (Dec. 20). An economist actually suggested that cloning and cryogenics might be an economical substitute for conservation. Not so.
For The Guardian
- Time for change in science journalism? (Jan. 26). A spinoff of a talk that I gave at ScienceOnline2011.
For Discover‘s “The Crux” group blog
- White Nose, Black Death—Context Makes a Killer (Nov. 7). The first of many posts I hope to make there, too. Bats and bubonic plague—who could ask for more?
On to 2012!