26 September 2023

The Best Australian Science Writing 2021

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Reviewed by Rama Gaind.

Edited by Dyani Lewis, foreword by Cathy Foley, NewSouth Books, $32.99.

A compendium of good science writing, like this one, alerts you to the importance of the work done by scientists and researchers. It also sets the scene for us to remain vigilant to the “almost incomprehensible mysteries and wonders yet to be discovered.”

In the foreword, physicist and Australia’s Chief Scientist Cathy Foley says these kinds of books “lift our sights from our feet to the horizon that is inspiring.”

Reports written about science are done with integrity, making sure it’s an accurate reflection of the state of scientific understanding, but that isn’t always easy. The “solid foundations of science can shift under our feet at alarming speed.” That’s what COVID-19 has shown us.

According to journalist Dyani Lewis, science isn’t always the realm of right answers, of unimpeachable truths.

“The pandemic has laid bare – in real time – the way that science lurches forward, in fits and starts and uncertainties. Experiments fail. Assumptions about how viruses leap from one person to the next hold true for decades … until they don’t. The science writing in this book dances along with the science it seeks to explain – questioning assumptions, unearthing ambiguities, and reckoning with its place in society. And most of all, delighting in these very complexities.”

If the pandemic has shown us anything, it’s what we know and understand to be true as we write is so often later revealed as flawed or incomplete.

Science isn’t always the realm of right answers, of unimpeachable truths. In the pursuit of understanding – be it COVID-19, or climate change, or the cosmos – there are differences of opinion, hypotheses and best guesses of what the future may hold.

The pandemic’s swirling, disorienting currents can be felt in many of this anthology’s pieces.

A fascinating collection of lively and amicable science writing where new voices join prominent science writers and journalists, take us to the depths of the ocean, the fuels of the future and to the Ryugu asteroid and back. The collection also brings us straight to the heart of complex ethical dilemmas and the calamitous crises challenging scientists and writers alike.

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