The New York Times, March 20, 2018

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BOSTON — David Reich wore a hooded, white suit, cream-colored clogs, and a blue surgical mask. Only his eyes were visible as he inspected the bone fragments on the counter.

Dr. Reich, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School, pointed out a strawberry-sized chunk: “This is from a 4,000-year-old site in Central Asia — from Uzbekistan, I think.”

He moved down the row. “This is a 2,500-year-old sample from a site in Britain. This is Bronze Age Russian, and these are Arabian samples. These people would have never met each other in time or space.”

Dr. Reich hopes that his team of scientists and technicians can find DNA in these bones. Odds are good that they will.

In less than three years, Dr. Reich’s laboratory has published DNA from the genomes of 938 ancient humans — more than all other research teams working in this field combined. The work in his lab has reshaped our understanding of human prehistory.

Continue reading “David Reich Unearths Human History Etched in Bone”

In 2004, I started a blog called “The Loom.” It has been hosted by National Geographic, Discover, and other fine folks over the years, but I’m now in the midst of bringing the whole compendium back home to my own web site. Since there are many of hundreds of posts to gather here, this will remain a work in progress for some time. For now, it is still incomplete and still carries some formatting glitches. Nevertheless, you are welcome to peruse it now, or use the search bar above to hunt for particular topics. And if the spirit moves me to write something new, I’ll post it here.

New York Times, December 12, 2017

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The 57-million-year-old fossil is both fearsome and comical: a long-beaked penguin that stood 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighed about 220 pounds.

“It was as tall as a medium-sized man,” said Gerald Mayr, a paleontologist at the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt, Germany, and lead author of a report in Nature Communications on Tuesday announcing the discovery.

Continue reading “Ancient Penguins Were Giant Waddling Predators”

New York Times, December 7, 2017

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When you drive toward an intersection, the sight of the light turning red will (or should) make you step on the brake. This action happens thanks to a chain of events inside your head.

Your eyes relay signals to the visual centers in the back of your brain. After those signals get processed, they travel along a pathway to another region, the premotor cortex, where the brain plans movements.

Now, imagine that you had a device implanted in your brain that could shortcut the pathway and “inject” information straight into your premotor cortex.

That may sound like an outtake from “The Matrix.” But now two neuroscientists at the University of Rochester say they have managed to introduceinformation directly into the premotor cortex of monkeys. The researchers published the results of the experiment on Thursday in the journal Neuron.

Continue reading “Scientists ‘Inject’ Information Into Monkeys’ Brains”

I was asked to give the keynote talk at “Science, Journalism, and Democracy: Grappling With A New Reality” at Rockefeller University on September 6, 2017 (video). This is what I said.

We’re here at this meeting to talk about science, journalism, and democracy. So let me begin by telling you about a newspaper article on a scientific experiment, an experiment that would end up having a major influence on government policy on a vital issue.

The vital issue was food. The experiment was carried out on wheat. Some varieties of wheat are known as spring wheat. They’re planted in the spring and grow soon afterwards. Winter wheat, on the other hand, is planted in the fall but does not produce its flowers till the spring. Winter wheat has the advantage of a much bigger yield. But there’s a catch. Continue reading “Let’s Not Lose Our Minds”