Anastomosing Rabbit Holes

I’m having trouble with a story.  First I went down one rabbit hole (the effects, on both sides of the Atlantic, of the Irish Potato Famine) until it branched into two (now-dead towns, one in Maryland, one in Ireland), and then I went down both.  You can picture me heading down one, scrambling back up, […]

A Case of J-Shame

I’ve been working on a couple of essays over the last week, knowing I had to fill this space. But when the time came to post one of them, I couldn’t do it. The subject was too irrelevant, too glib in the shadow of yet another sick fuck shooting innocent people. It didn’t belong. This […]

H.G. Wells’ Advice on Science Writing

H.G. Wells is remembered today for his science fiction, but he had a solid foundation — and an enduring interest — in science fact. As a university student in London in the 1880s, he was deeply influenced by a course with Thomas Henry Huxley, a biologist so fiercely committed to evolutionary theory that he was known […]

The Story I Never Wrote

Last year, I abandoned a story. It happens, journalists don’t write every story they think they might. But this one I still think about. It started innocuously enough. A paper caught my eye about looting and archaeology. The premise was somewhat counterintuitive: the author argued that in places where the economic situation was particularly dire, […]

Simplify, Simplify

I’ve owned only one copy of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, and I’ve owned it since high school. It’s a 1980 Signet Classic paperback, original price $1.75. Inside the creased front cover, in ballpoint pen, a long-ago student has scrawled, “I want to go to sleep. I’ll never last 1 hr + 20 min reading!” I wasn’t that student—I […]

Antevernals in the Anthropocene

Over the past twenty years, naturalist David Lukas has hiked thousands of miles of trails in the Sierra Nevada, most of them accompanied by a slim, sturdy little book called Dictionary of Word Roots and Combining Forms. Lukas likes nature and he likes words, and he especially likes to know the history and meaning of our words about […]

No, Mr. Penn, That Is Not Why We Hate You

Like every foreign journalist living in Mexico, I’ve been watching the Sean-Penn-interviews-notorious-drug-lord with a mix of humor and mild disgust. It’s like some kind of adolescent game of Mad Libs. El Chapo meets Sean Penn in the mountains to talk about farts and penises. I tried to read the article but could only force myself […]

Conversation with Michael Balter: On Not Teaching

Michael:  Hi Ann! After six years of teaching in NYU’s science journalism program (SHERP), and a year before that teaching at Boston University, I have decided to take a break and hand over my beginning writing, research and reporting class to someone else. What a tough decision. I love my students–so many of whom have […]