I am a science journalist and editor based in Portland, Oregon. I've written for a variety of publications, including National Geographic, Smithsonian, The Atlantic, WIRED, Science, and Knowable. I'm a frequent contributing editor to Science and Knowable.
Previously I was a senior writer at WIRED and a staff writer and daily news editor at Science. I've written extensively about neuroscience and other areas of biological, behavioral, and social science. I'm especially interested in stories about how emerging science and technology are challenging our social, ethical, and legal conventions.
I also co-wrote a cartography blog for several years with my friend and colleague Betsy Mason. We also wrote a book: All Over the Map: A Cartographic Odyssey (National Geographic, 2018).
Before becoming a journalist, I earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience at Stanford University and completed the graduate science writing program at the University of California, Santa Cruz. To reach me by email, please click the envelope icon below.
Created for map lovers by map lovers, this rich book explores the intriguing stories behind maps across history and illuminates how the art of cartography thrives today.
The United States of America was founded on a conspiracy theory. In the lead-up to the War of Independence, revolutionaries argued that a tax on tea or stamps is not just a tax, but the opening gambit in a sinister plot of oppression.
How a covert U.S. Army intelligence unit canvassed war-torn Europe, capturing intelligence with incalculable strategic value
A military helicopter was on the ground when Russell Guy arrived at the helipad near Tallinn, Estonia, with a briefcase filled with $250,000 in cash. The place made him uncomfortable. It didn't look like a military base, not exactly, but there were men who looked like soldiers standing around. With guns.
After two years of bureaucratic hurdles, the first study to directly compare cannabis with an opioid drug is about to begin.
Brain mapping has come a long way since the days of Korbinian Brodmann. The German neurologist was cutting edge for the early 1900s, using newly invented chemical stains that made it possible to see individual neurons through a microscope.
When Brent Williams got to RadioShack that day in the spring of 2012, he knew exactly what he was looking for: a variable resistor, a current regulator, a circuit board, and a 9-volt battery. The total came to around $20. Williams is tall and balding, with wire-rim glasses that make him look like an engineer, which he is.
Are remotely piloted aircraft changing the nature of war? This article won a share of the 2013 magazine journalism award from the National Academies.
A follow-up to my 2004-05 Carter Center fellowship, this article looks at an innovative community mental health program in Aceh, Indonesia.
This feature story about the malleability of memory won the Michael E. DeBakey national print journalism award in 2011.
The first in an online series about what cognitive scientists are learning about why we love cinema--and what directors intuitively know about how our brains process what we see.
Early the morning of March 11, 2012, Army staff sergeant Robert Bales left his remote outpost in an impoverished region of Kandahar Province, Afghanistan and killed 16 people in two nearby villages. In June, he pleaded guilty to the murders in a military court.
The subject enters a room in which a 12-year-old boy is seated. A 20-minute conversation ensues. The subject quizzes the boy about current events and other topics to get a sense of his intelligence and personality. But the boy is not what he appears to be.
In this gallery several scientists helped us explore the biology of some of the microbes that make our food and drink more delicious. Isn't it time you got to know them a little better?
Terry Wallis showed only fleeting hints of consciousness for 19 years after he suffered a brain injury in a road accident. But then, in 2003, at age 39, he began to speak. It started with "Mom," and then "Pepsi," but soon he was slowly stringing sentences together and holding down his end of a conversation.
Science and technology
It started with a tweet from a conservative media personality, accompanied by photos, claiming that more than 1000 mail-in ballots had been discovered in a dumpster in Sonoma county in California.
By the time a person starts exhibiting the memory problems and other symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, a catastrophic cascade of cellular events has been playing out inside their brain for years or even decades. Misfolded proteins and fragments of protein have been ever so slowly clumping together, forming microscopic plaques and tangles that interfere with the function of neurons.
For many people, a sudden loss of smell is the first sign that something's wrong. "One gentleman said he realized it with hand sanitizer," says Carol Yan, a rhinologist at the University of California, San Diego. "All of a sudden it was like water to him."
When five researchers at the University of Washington, Seattle, launched the new Center for an Informed Public back in December 2019, they had no idea what was coming. The center aims to study how misinformation propagates and use the findings to "promote an informed society, and strengthen democratic discourse."
In response to the coronavirus pandemic, public health officials are asking us to do something that does not come naturally to our very social species: Stay away from each other. Such social distancing-avoiding large gatherings and close contact with others-is crucial for slowing the spread of the virus and preventing our health care system from getting overwhelmed.
For most of human history, social networking required being in the physical presence of other people. The only way to make a friend, gain a collaborator or find a mate was in the flesh, face to face.
They're cloyingly sweet, nutritionally empty - and, increasingly, subject to taxation. More than 35 countries and seven cities in the US - starting with Berkeley, California, in 2015 - now impose a tax on soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages, and several more places are considering it.
"The hurdle we've always had is getting people to know how to find us," says Dwight Holton, the CEO of Lines for Life, a Lifeline call center based in Portland, Oregon. That might soon change. The Federal Communications Commission recently recommended making it easier to reach the Lifeline, by dialing 988 instead of the more cumbersome current 10-digit number.
Babies born prematurely are prone to problems later in life-they're more likely to develop autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and more likely to struggle in school. A new study that's among the first to investigate brain activity in human fetuses suggests that the underlying neurological issues may begin in the womb.
In the mid-19th century, some European doctors became fascinated with a plant-derived drug recently imported from India. Cannabis had been used as medicine for millennia in Asia, and physicians were keen to try it with their patients.
The country has long prided itself as a land of reinvention, but not if it means abandoning the right to know what the neighbors are up to.
A provocative new idea suggests that the stress of living with strangers spawned innovations in architecture and culture--and helped create cities as we now know them
A new study found that the number of judicial opinions referencing neuroscience as evidence more than doubled between 2005 and 2012. Please consider disabling it for our site, or supporting our work in one of these ways Subscribe Now >
A new study suggests that common settings used in software for analyzing brain scans may lead to false positive results. (Image: National Institute of Mental Health)
As a journalist who writes about neuroscience, I've gotten a lot of super enthusiastic press releases touting a new breakthrough in using brain scans to read people's minds. They make it sound like a brave new future has arrived. But whenever I read these papers and talk to the scientists, I end up feeling conflicted.
Whether you find it exhilarating or terrifying (or both), progress in robotics and related fields like AI is raising new ethical quandaries and challenging legal codes that were created for a world in which a sharp line separates man from machine.
Neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis went on the Daily Show in 2011 and told Jon Stewart that he would develop a robotic body suit that would allow paralyzed people to walk again simply by thinking about it -- and he'd do it in just 3 or 4 years.
One of the first things you learn in Biology 101 is that the genetic code consists of four letters: A, T, C, and G. Each represents a chemical building block of DNA, the molecule that encodes the information necessary to build life as we know it.
Nobody knows what causes autism, a condition that varies so widely in severity that some people on the spectrum achieve enviable fame and success while others require lifelong assistance due to severe problems with communication, cognition, and behavior. Scientists have found countless clues, but so far they don't quite add up.
By the end of this year, digging could begin on a waterway that would stretch roughly 180 miles across Nicaragua to unite the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Giant container ships capable of carrying consumer electronics by the millions (or T-shirts by the billion) could begin making the passage by 2019, according to the most optimistic projections.
Before it was torn apart by freeway construction in the middle of the 20th century, the Near North neighborhood in Minneapolis was home to the city's largest concentration of African American families. That wasn't by accident: As far back as the early 1900s, racially restrictive covenants on property deeds prevented African Americans and other minorities from buying homes in many other areas throughout the city.
smithsonian.com The German naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt was one of the most celebrated scientists of the 19th century. In 1869, on the 100th anniversary of his birth, 25,000 people gathered in New York's Central Park to listen to speeches extolling his accomplishments and witness the unveiling of a large bronze bust of Humboldt, who had died ten years earlier.
Like stamps on a passport, the stamps on these captured Russian military maps tell a story-for the maps, it's often one of intrigue and globetrotting. Stamps emblazoned with national insignia reveal that some of these secret maps were captured by the Nazis and others by the U.S. Army during World War II.
Every day thousands of passengers on underground streetcars in San Francisco pass through the hull of a 19th-century ship without knowing it. Likewise, thousands of pedestrians walk unawares over dozens of old ships buried beneath the streets of the city's financial district.
The Indian Ocean is teeming with sea monsters in Caspar Vopel's 1558 map of the world. A giant swordfish-like creature looks to be on a collision course with a ship, while a walrus with frighteningly large tusks emerges from the water, and a king carrying a flag rides the waves on a hog-faced beast.
A 1901 map of Rome is arguably the best map ever made of the most mapped city in human history. The map, created by archaeologist Rodolfo Lanciani, documents the city in meticulous detail from its ancient past through the end of the 19th century. The map is huge.
Some maps are meant to be felt, not seen. The photograph above shows a page from an atlas commissioned by a Swiss psychologist for a friend who loves geography and maps but is unable to use traditional atlases because he is completely blind.
When Gordon Barnes joined the U.S. Air Force in 1956, he worked as a navigator on the tanker planes that refuel long-range bombers in midair. Coordinating a connection between two planes moving hundreds of miles an hour at 30,000 feet may sound exciting, but Barnes found the work routine.
These maps were captured in the waning days of World War II as the U.S. Army took control of Japan. American soldiers confiscated thousands of secret Japanese military maps and the plates used to print them, then shipped them to the United States for safekeeping.
Robert Berlo got hooked on maps at an early age. As a kid growing up in San Francisco he'd pore over roadmaps in the backseat of the car on family vacations. Sometime around age 11 he started collecting them. By the time Berlo died in 2012 at 71 he'd amassed more than 12,000 roadmaps and atlases.
Here are a few of the ways cartographers have created the illusion of depth on maps through the centuries.
It's arguably the most important map in our country's history. After the Revolutionary War, British and American representatives met in Paris to negotiate the boundaries of a new nation: the United States of America. Both sides had a version of the same map, marked up to indicate where they thought the lines should be drawn.
In 15th-century Europe, the Apocalypse weighed heavily on the minds of the people. Plagues were rampant. The once-great capital of the Roman empire, Constantinople, had fallen to the Turks. Surely, the end was nigh. Dozens of printed works described the coming reckoning in gory detail, but one long-forgotten manuscript depicts the Apocalypse in a very different way-through maps.
The maps we use to navigate have come a long way in a short time. Since the '90s we've gone from glove boxes stuffed with paper maps to floorboards littered with Mapquest printouts to mindlessly obeying Siri or her nameless Google counterpart. The maps behind those voices are packed with far more data than most people realize.
Christopher Columbus probably used the map above as he planned his first voyage across the Atlantic in 1492. It represents much of what Europeans knew about geography on the verge discovering the New World, and it's packed with text historians would love to read-if only the faded paint and five centuries of wear and tear hadn't rendered most of it illegible.
As the vehicle navigated the labyrinthine streets of London and headed for the countryside of Surrey with uncommon speed, the passengers must have felt a bit unnerved. Having selected their destination, they'd relinquished control. They had no communication with the driver, but they could check their progress on a map.
When the United States decides to recognize a new foreign government, or an existing country decides to change its name, Leo Dillon and his team at the U.S. State Department spring into action. Dillon heads the Department's Geographical Information Unit, which is responsible for making sure the boundaries and names on official government maps reflect current U.S.
Sometimes a map can act like a time machine. This one shows San Francisco's Chinatown in 1885, and it shows that it was a pretty wild place. The color coding shows several kinds of trouble a person could get into back then: gambling dens are pink, opium dens are yellow, and prostitution is either blue or green depending on the ethnicity of the prostitutes.
Glen McLaughlin wandered into a London map shop in 1971 and discovered something strange. On a map from 1663 he noticed something he'd never seen before: California was floating like a big green carrot, untethered to the west coast of North America.
History of science
In 1651 a London tailor named John Reeve claimed to have received a message from God. "I have chosen thee my last messenger for a great work unto this bloody unbelieving world," God said, according to Reeve. "And I have given thee Lodowicke Muggleton to be thy mouth."
Hubert Airy first became aware of his affliction in the fall of 1854, when he noticed a small blind spot interfering with his ability to read. "At first it looked just like the spot which you see after having looked at the sun or some bright object," he later wrote.
In the late '70s, researchers at MIT built a tablet that filled an entire room. It was called the Spatial Data Management System, and although it was enormous, it was an awful lot like a modern tablet or smartphone. It had a touch screen, voice recognition, and multiple apps.
Friend, have you felt your manly vigor waning? Have you experienced shaky nerves or sexual debility? Fear not! A cure is at hand. Experience the restorative virtues of Dr. Sanden's electric belt, guaranteed to enliven the elements of manhood and make the bodily organs strong, vigorous, and free of pain.
The insecticide DDT is mostly thought of today as a bird-killing eco-nightmare. But it wasn't always so. DDT was once a Nobel Prize-worthy miracle of modern chemistry. And for decade or two in the mid-20th century, ordinary people used DDT---lots of it---in ways that seem extraordinary today.
Timothy Leary's life is now open to the public. The archives of the one-time Harvard psychologist who became an evangelist for the mind-expanding potential of hallucinogenic drugs in the 1960s have found a new home at the New York Public Library, which recently threw a party to celebrate their release.