For an in-class exercise, I like asking students: “What’s your utopia?” I tell them that utopias aren’t fashionable these days; “utopian” is generally employed in a derogatory sense, meaning naively optimistic...
One of the coolest—and most stressful–moments of my career took place November 7, 1996, when I was a staff writer for Scientific American.
I recently knocked science journalist Chris Mooney for asserting that “You Have No Business Challenging Scientific Experts.” Non-experts have the right and even the duty, I retorted, to question scientific experts, who often get things wrong...
Alcoholics Anonymous, the 80-year-old self-help program, has always had critics, who fault it for being too religious and unscientific. Journalist Gabrielle Glaser revives both these charges in her April Atlantic article, “The False Gospel of Alcoholics Anonymous.” She claims that “researchers have debunked central tenets of A.A...
Fisticuffs have broken out in The Guardian between two intellectual big shots, philosopher John Gray and psychologist Steven Pinker. The fight, which features lots of rhetorical flourishes and high dudgeon, addresses a serious issue: Is humanity achieving moral progress?...
Philosopher Daniel Dennett once asked: Would you rather be remembered for being right about something, or for being “original and provocative”?
In a column last week, I argued that journalists and other non-scientists have the right and even in some cases the responsibility to question the authority of scientific experts; after all, “even the most accomplished scientists at the most prestigious institutions often make claims that turn out to be erroneous or exaggerated.” My post criticized [...]..
Years ago I was blathering to a science-writing class at Columbia Journalism School about the complexities of covering psychiatric drugs when a student, who as I recall had a medical degree, raised his hand...
In 1993, when I was a full-time staff writer for Scientific American, my boss, Jonathan Piel, asked, or rather, commanded me to write an in-depth feature on something, anything, mathematical...
In 1990 The New York Times published a front-page article by Lawrence Altman, a reporter with a medical degree, announcing that scientists had discovered “a link between alcoholism and a specific gene.” That was merely one in a string of reports in which the Times and other major media hyped what turned out to be [...]..
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