2010’s Best Long Reads: Science & Technology
By Mark Armstrong
FOR THE LOVE OF CULTURE
Google, Copyright and Our Future (Lawrence Lessig, The New Republic, Jan. 26, 2010)
Time to read: 26 minutes (6,454 words)
In the wake of the Google Books project—and the subsequent settlement with publishers — Lessig calls for a new approach that untangles copyright law and helps keep information accessible to all.
What are the rules that will govern culture for the next hundred years? Are we building an ecology of access that demands a lawyer at every turn of the page?”
For more on this complex and controversial subject, see our continuous coverage of remix culture.
SEARCH FOR A STRESS VACCINE
Under Pressure: The Search for a Stress Vaccine (Jonah Lehrer, Wired, July 28, 2010)
Time to read: 23 minutes (5,700 words)
Lehrer profiles Robert Sapolsky, a scientist researching ways to create a vaccine-like treatment to protect people against stress. (In early research he’s injected a modified herpes virus into rodents’ brains.)
Sometimes it’s not enough just to tell people, ‘Jeez, you should really learn to relax.’ If stress is half as bad for you as we currently think it is, then it’s time to stop treating the side effects. It’s time to go after stress itself.”
NEW DRUGS AND CLINICAL TRIALS
New Drugs Stir Debate on Rules of Clinical Trials (Amy Harmon, New York Times, Sept. 19, 2010)
Time to read: 17 minutes (4,173 words)
A heartbreaking story from Harmon’s “Target Cancer” series about two cousins with skin cancer enrolled in the same clinical trial — but only one of them received the powerful new drug.
At times beseeching and belligerent, Mr. McLaughlin argued his cousin’s case to get the new drug with anyone he could find at U.C.L.A. ‘Hey, put him on it, he needs it,’ he pleaded. And then: ‘Who the hell is making these decisions?'”
THE STATUS QUO OF ELECTRIC CARS
The Status Quo of Electric Cars: Better Batteries, Same Range (Gail E. Tverberg, The Oil Drum, May 19, 2010)
Time to read: 16 minutes (3,940 words)
The Chevy Volt is Motor Trend‘s Car of the Year, but Tverberg argues that, in many ways, we’re no better off with electric cars than we were a century ago.
Weight, comfort, speed and performance have eaten up any real progress. We don’t need better batteries, we need better cars.”
AUTISM’S FIRST CHILD
Autism’s First Child (John Donvan and Caren Zucker, The Atlantic, October 2010)
Time to read: 33 minutes (8,165 words)
While there is quite a bit of attention on autism as it relates to children, what happens when they grow up? Donvan and Zucker track down Donald Gray Triplett, 77, the first person ever diagnosed with autism.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Donald’s life is that he grew up to be an avid traveler. He has been to Germany, Tunisia, Hungary, Dubai, Spain, Portugal, France, Bulgaria, and Colombia—some 36 foreign countries and 28 U.S. states in all.”
THE GOLDEN BOY AND THE INVISIBLE ARMY
The Golden Boy and the Invisible Army (Thomas Lake, Atlanta Magazine, June 2010)
Time to read: 19 minutes (4,777 words)
Writer Thomas Lake puts the H1N1 virus in human terms with this story of John Behnken, a 27-year-old Atlanta man who seemed an unlikely target for swine flu.
Dr. Stauffenberg had done close to 1,600 autopsies, and this was the first time she had seen an otherwise healthy person die from the unaided influenza virus.”
SHOULD WE CLONE NEANDERTHALS?
Should We Clone Neanderthals? (Zach Zorich, Archaeology, March/April 2010)
Time to read: 17 minutes (4,274 words)
An examination of the scientific, legal and ethical questions raised by the possibility that scientists may one day be able to clone neanderthals. At least one paleoanthropologist predicts: It’s going to happen.
If your experiment succeeds and you generate a Neanderthal who talks, you have violated every ethical rule we have, and if your experiment fails…well. It’s a lose-lose.”
THE PEANUT SOLUTION
The Peanut Solution (Andrew Rice, New York Times, Sept. 2, 2010)
Time to read: 21 minutes (5,258 words)
A peanut-buttery paste called Plumpy’nut is praised for its potential to help end malnutrition across the globe. Patents, intellectual property and competing interests make distribution more complicated.
I wouldn’t want to see a new world order where poor people are dependent on packaged supplementary foods that are manufactured in Europe or the United States.”
SHOOTING FOR THE SUN
Shooting for the Sun (Logan Ward, The Atlantic, November 2010)
Time to read: 13 minutes (3,149 words)
The story of Lonnie Johnson, an inventor with some 100 patents who is best-known for creating the Super Soaker squirt gun. His latest obsession: Bringing affordable solar power to the world.
Johnson is a member of what seems to be a vanishing breed: the self-invented inventor.”
THE PLASTIC PANIC
The Plastic Panic (Jerome Groopman, The New Yorker, May 31, 2010)
Time to read: 19 minutes (4,788 words)
Is the BPA found in plastic bottles actually harmful to us? And if so, why isn’t it banned in the United States? A look at the regulatory issues that keep potentially toxic chemicals in the marketplace.
The Toxic Substances Control Act, passed in 1976, does not require manufacturers to show that chemicals used in their products are safe before they go on the market.”
See more Longreads 2010 “best-of” lists here.
Published December 22, 2010