“The Martian” and Ice Age Astronauts

Two nights ago I sat in a theater watching the film “The Martian.” I loved seeing a viable spacecraft making gravitational slingshots around planets while a stranded, potato-growing astronaut claimed himself the first colonist on Mars. What’s there not to love? Meanwhile, in my coat pocket I carried an object from an entirely different age […]

Seeing Through Time

In the bespangled Pioneer Saloon in Paisley, Oregon, hangs a picture on a wall of a fit, gray mustached archaeologist out in the field. Written in pen, the name at the bottom of the photo is Dr. Poop. Dennis Jenkins is his actual name, a senior archaeologist at the University of Oregon. Jenkins leads paleo digs in […]

Your Daily Time Machine

For me, geography is a time machine. The shape of the land sets the dials. Artifacts are keys. A few days ago I was watching for mammoth hunters out a train window. Climbing through the Rocky Mountains on the California Zephyr, I looked for spear bearers in the bony canyons and pine woods along the […]

Snark Week: The Wrath of the Sloth

If there’s a landmass that has them, get off of it now. As you’ll learn in this blog post, the last thing you want to do is find yourself trapped in a confined space with sloths, and I consider a continent a confined space. For starters, the sloth is the only animal listed as one […]

My Mom on the Bering Land Bridge

All this week Last Word on Nothing is geared toward Mother’s Day, which is next Sunday. Tell your mother you love her and share some of our posts, things are about to get maternal. Pictured above: my mother. I held her cold hands in mine, rubbing warmth into them as she crouched behind a rock […]

The Dragons’ Third Stir: the Next Bigge One

In keeping with the brave tradition of gullible, single-source reporting, here’s an astounding science news report.  It ran in the News and Views section of the prestigious journal, Nature, a couple weeks ago, I don’t know how I missed it, and it surely deserved more than the brief flurry of attention it got on Twitter.  […]

Redux: The Beginning of the End of Science

Some things never change. And sometimes the things that never change still somehow change for the worse. This post originally ran on January 5, 2011—an anti-science era that now seems almost quaint. Those were the days! I blame David Letterman. Less than a month before the 2000 U.S. Presidential election, one of the guests on his show was the governor of Texas, George W. Bush. […]

Ye Olde Scientific Writing

A few weeks ago, biologist Stephen Heard blogged about beauty in scientific writing. Among his examples, he cited an elegant explanation of quantum mechanics research and a playful description of a snake surveying a “disconsolate line” of frogs. More details can be found in Heard’s paper on the subject, which calls for scientists to strive […]