Motherhood Week: Making Friends With Mister P.

My eight-year-old daughter is a fourth-generation perfectionist. In my family, the trait is matrilineal, so I know from firsthand experience that it has a few advantages. My daughter is likely to pay her bills on time and use semicolons correctly. She will not be intimidated by details. She will have a certain baseline competence that will make her […]

Tropical Science

A few months ago I found myself south of the border working on a story for Scientific American about the glories of really small brains. When I say south of the border, I mean south of the Mexican border and when I say small brains I mean really really small brains. Like those of a […]

On Competence

As human civilization becomes ever more technologically complex, the average competence of each person declines. When a society operates using a suite of technologies that a single adult can learn in his or her lifetime—building a house from scratch, farming, spinning cotton, making medicines, having babies, hunting, fishing, singing and dancing—then it is possible to […]

The Sock Barometer

    I’ve been losing socks lately. One at a time. I correlate this with my state of life and work: picking up and dropping off kids, scheduling plane flights and cross-country drives, article deadlines, a final book manuscript due tomorrow, a blog post tonight. This week, I’m teaching 15 high school classes on the writing process, why we […]

Dial M for Medicine

One evening last week, after digesting about three times the recommended daily allowance of political news and making myself nauseous with anxiety about the state of the world, I resorted to a familiar remedy. My husband found me in the half-lit bedroom, staring at a flickering iPad. I looked up and shrugged. “Icelandic crime drama,” […]

Conversation: Mike Lemonick & the Perpetual Now

I’ve known Mike Lemonick for several thousand years, ever since he assigned me to write a news story.  And I was then, as I still am, congenitally unable to write news stories.  All I remember is that I blew the news story and Mike had to completely rewrite it. I don’t remember the story, I […]

Stop Underestimating Chickens

One of my favorite things about my usual writing beat (living things) is that we humans never stop learning new things about animals. We’re even still discovering species that are new to science. (Check out the glorious ruby sea dragon, previously known only from beach corpses, and Hoolock tianxing, a gibbon just determined to be its own […]