Marvin and The System

We live with machines. And our machines are getting smarter. They’re still very dumb, they do what we tell them to, and often not really all that well. But we’re teaching them. And I do mean “we.” When you tag your friends on Facebook, you’re teaching its facial recognition system what to look for in […]

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, […]

The Elephant in the Bedroom

Just recently, the Chinese government ended its one-child policy, telling married couples they could reuse their nurseries one more time. It wasn’t out of the goodness of officials’ hearts. The original policy, put into effect in the late 1970s, was about demographics, an attempt to control the pull on the flailing economy. The change is still about […]

Off Our Meds: Doctor Knows Best

This week LWON presents “Off Our Meds,” an examination of some scary issues in medicine. We won’t resort to fear mongering, because we don’t have to. Medicine is scary enough as it is. The woman came to Scott Haig, an orthopedic surgeon, because she had a lump on her collarbone. Usually these lumps are caused by arthritis or […]

Why Archeologists Hate Indiana Jones

The jungles of the Peten are hot and sweaty. Most of the best places for archeology are. Field seasons are especially hot, since they are always during the driest time of year so that the site doesn’t get flooded. Howler monkeys boom from the parched trees, which barely twitch during the windless days. Meanwhile, pasty grad […]

Infected and Imprisoned

The outbreak that shook the tiny town of Ninety Six, South Carolina, probably began in the spring of 2012. An elderly janitor at the local elementary school fell ill and began unwittingly spreading the bacterium that causes tuberculosis. By June 2013, more than 50 students were infected and at least ten had developed signs of […]

Until the Bitter End

Last night I read Robin Marantz Henig’s beautiful story about Peggy Battin, a bioethicist and advocate for patients who wish to end their lives, and her husband, Brooke Hopkins. A bike accident in 2008 left Brooke paralyzed from the shoulders down and in need of almost constant care. Some days Brooke wants to live; other […]

Uninformed consent, revisited

Early in my pregnancy, a research assistant sat down next to me in the waiting room of my doctor’s office, where I was scheduled to undergo a routine checkup. She asked me if I wanted to take part in a research study and described the study’s goals, risks and benefits. After I agreed to join […]