Where the Boys Are (The men need to be, too)

The outline of the story is as familiar as it is tawdry: a group of high school boys turn sexual insecurity into a contest, and a contest into emotional brutality. Adults in their orbit express shock and outrage, and observers pretend that the migration of teen sleaze onto the Internet represents something new. But why […]

Ignorance: The Elevator Speech

Ever since I reviewed Ignorance: How it Drives Science, a charming new book by the Columbia neuroscientist Stuart Firestein, I’ve been thinking about ignorance. And I tell you, it’s been a bit of a headache. Firestein teaches a popular science class at Columbia, also called Ignorance, in which he invites scientists from different disciplines to talk […]

Hilda and Thomas

Bear with me, I want to talk about my grandparents. Hilda was my mother’s mother.  Thomas was my father’s father.  The difference between my mother’s and my father’s families was enormous. My mother’s family was large and blue-collar — farmers, mechanics, truckers – and not much money or education; not much use for the fine […]

The Last Word on Nothing, Junior Edition

As the parent of a three-year-old, I spend a lot of time reading kids’ books. Some are wonderful, a lot are so-so, and a few are so frigging annoying that — I confess — I hide them. I always expect to like science-themed books — this is my kind of brainwashing, I think — but […]

Talking Universe Blues, Part 2

“What can we do about high school physics textbooks?” The question, I admit, stumped me. Not in the way that a question about whether gravity exists in other universes would stump me. That question I wouldn’t be able to answer because there isn’t an answer; the existence of other universes is speculative. This question, however, […]

Bold and Italicize Your Way to a Better Memory

Let’s say I were writing a book about the norgletti, a fictional extraterrestrial species, and had the choice of these four typefaces. If I asked you which one would make your reading experience most pleasurable, the choice would be obvious. The first three fonts are brash, clumsy, juvenile and just plain difficult to read. What […]