PHOTO BY STEVE SAUS, VIA CREATIVE COMMONS

On Monday I was at a meeting at MIT. When it broke up in the afternoon, I breathed a sigh of relief. The purpose of the meeting was to bring together lots of people who share science in one way or another–in museums, on Facebook, at street fairs, in books, and so on–and have them talk about what they saw in the future. Thankfully, I got to the end of the day without anyone stopping to say, “Now, we really need to talk about how blogging is going to change the landscape. Carl, maybe you could stand up and explain how blogs work?”

I had reason to dread this, because I’ve experienced variations of it over the years. People were wondering whether blogs were here to stay long after they had infiltrated the entire body of journalism. But it seems that, at long last, no one even thinks of blogs as something new and strange. And it felt particularly satisfying to me to go unbothered on that point this particular week. Because today marks the tenth anniversary of The Loom.

Continue reading “Ten Years!”

The extinction crisis we’re experiencing today is hard to get our arms around. It can be tough even to just know when a species really has become extinct, and not just hiding from people. But scientists also want to know how species become extinct. Once we disturb a place, how long do we have to wait before the species there start to disappear? If we can understand the path towards extinction, we may be better able to stop the stampede. For this week’s “Matter” column in the New York Times, I  look at a rare opportunity to test out ideas of “extinction debt,” created by a dam in Thailand. It turns out that species can vanish from fragmented forests with startling speed. Check it out.

Continue reading “Paying The Extinction Debt: My New Column for the New York Times”

Back in April, I wrote in National Geographic about the provocative idea of bringing extinct species back to life. In the five months that have passed since then, I haven’t spotted any mammoths or saber-tooth lions drifting through my front yard. If “de-extinction” ever does become real, it won’t for quite a while.

What I have seen over the past five months is a new conversation. Part of the conversation has revolved around the specifics of de-extinction. Some people are open to the possibilities of rebuilding genomes and embryos of vanished species. Some people find it a flashy distraction from the real work of fighting the current wave of extinctions.

Continue reading “Genetically Engineering the Wild”

RIYADH AT NIGHT. PHOTO BY PETER BAKER, VIA CREATIVE COMMONS

We have the dubious privilege of observing a new disease in the midst of being born. The disease could go on to spread around the world, stall out as a minor, local blight, or disappear altogether. Scientists have been observing its emergence for a year now, and while they know more than they did in 2012, they still can’t predict quite what will happen. Part of their uncertainty stems from the fact that they still don’t know much about its past.

Continue reading “MERS At One: The Deadly Virus Drizzle”

A couple weeks ago I wrote about the great work at Retro Report in looking back at news stories that were in the headlines decades ago. It was especially gratifying to see all the science they’ve delved into. This morning, they unveiled another fascinating look at the history of science. It’s on the drug thalidomide, which caused dramatic birth defects to children’s arms and legs in the 1950s and led to the modern regulation of medicine.”The Shadow of Thalidomide” features interviews  with the victims of the drug and scientists who discovered new medical uses for it. 

Continue reading “Retro Report Looks At the Afterlife of Thalidomide”