Tag Archives: food for thought

Best Shortform Science Writing: January-March 2017

(A Highly Subjective Round-up of Standout Science News) [Above:  Header from an 1884 science magazine called Knowledge, led by British astronomer Richard Anthony Proctor. Its tagline reads: “A magazine of science: plainly worded – exactly described.”  Image via Wikimedia Commons & public domain.] Late January 2017 saw a shift in science journalism so subtle that …

Hybrid Problems: Chimerism, Synthetic Life, and Mixed Heritage

[A hybrid orchid. Photo by Mark Freeth.]  [“Molecularization of Identity” Workshop Recap, Part 2] Genomes of indigenous people, which often include genes found nowhere else in the world, can be powerful symbols for nations that want to showcase their uniqueness.  But when the Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Medicina Genómica  (INMEGEN)  set out to find examples …

We Need Investigative Science Journalism But Learning to Investigate Science is Hard–Part 2

Yesterday, I wrote about why many pieces about the need for investigative science journalism don’t acknowledge the factors behind its scarcity.  Conversations about investigations in science journalism often seem to assume that reporters don’t see critiquing science as important, but journalists’ individual interests don’t set the tone for journalistic coverage  all by themselves. In journalism, …

We Need Investigative Science Journalism But Learning to Investigate Science is Hard-Part 1

[^^”How do you know?”: The question that science journalists must not forget to ask.] One night about a month ago, I was at a friend’s birthday party, knocking back tequila and rum with assorted MIT-affiliated twentysomethings. Somehow I ended up talking about tardigrades with a post-doc from an  uber-spiffy genetics institute. [This is what a …

Dawkins’ ideas about cultural memes are what lead me to embrace feminism and social justice (So how did he end up being such an asshole?)

[Trigger Warning: rape, anti-theism, and appropriation of scientific authority by bigots.] Richard Dawkins confounds me. On the one hand, he’s brilliant. On the other hand, he tweets bulls*** like this series of tweets where he tries to argue that “logically” “stranger rape” is worse than “date rape”, but saying that “stranger rape” is worse is …

Top 23 One-Liners from a Panel Discussion that Gave Me a Crazy Idea

This past Saturday, I got to listen in on an all-star panel sponsored by the Future of Life Institute on the potential risks and benefits of technologies like artificial intelligence, personal genetics, and automated factories. We heard from George Church, one of the world’s best-known synthetic biologists, on the future of bioengineering; Ting Wu, director …

Investigating neural patterns in the younger siblings of autistic children – Recap of talk by Dr. Charles Nelson

The Talk: A Cognitive Neuroscience Approach to the Early Identification of Autism In Plain English: A scientist investigates the patterns of neural wiring in infants whose older siblings have autism The Speaker: Charles Nelson of Boston Children’s Hospital The Sponsor: Simons Center for the Social Brain at MIT What it covered: Dr. Charles “Chuck” Nelson …

Neurodiversity & Disability Rights in the Autistic Civil Rights Movement- Recap of talk by Ari Ne’eman

The Talk: “Autism, Neurodiversity, and Disability Rights: Then and Now” In Plain English: Disability advocates are in the middle of an ongoing struggle to ensure civil rights for autistic individuals, and hardly anyone has seemed to notice. The Speaker: Ari Ne’eman, president of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network The Location: Harvard Law School Project on Disability …

Epidemic of Absence: A book that made me think too much

What it’s about:

Epidemic of Absence tackles one of the trickiest and trendiest topics in 21st-century biomedical research: the complex relationship between autoimmune disease and the bacteria that live in our guts.

A growing body of evidence suggests that by decimating the number of pathogenic microbes people are exposed to, modern medicine has inadvertently shifted the ecological balance between the human immune system and the human microbiome, leaving millions of people vulnerable to allergies and autoimmune disease.

The basic evolutionary argument is that our immune system evolved to cope with a constant onslaught of opportunistic microbes by developing a complex system of checks-and-balances with our bodies’ microbial populations. With those microbes gone, many of the immune system’s coping strategies are having disastrous side effects. In this book, Velasquez-Manoff implicates the depletion of bacterial biodiversity as a driving agent in the pretty much every non-infectious disease you can think of (cancer, depression, Crohn’s, Celiac’s, allergies, and autism are all covered in this book).

The Upsides:

It’s a rare snapshot of a scientific revolution in progress. And it’s easily the most thought-provoking book I’ve read all year.