Ghosts of Epidemics Past

In the wake of the recent break in security protocols at a Centers for Disease Control anthrax laboratory, Harvard School of Public Health Professor of Epidemiology (that’s a lot of capitals, I know) Marc Lipsitch discusses the controversial projects involving labs in the US, Europe, and Asia, to recreated pandemic flu strains. Here is  an excerpt […]


A leading biochemist in the field of energy metabolism once proposed to a member of the audience to prove the necessity of oxygen by wrapping a plastic bag around his head (“his” being the audience member’s). I think we all have an intuitive notion of how that experiment would play out. But what is the […]

A Teachable Moment

Some bad ideas are like Abba songs. You may feel secure in the knowledge that, while for some inexplicable reason people in the past were drawn to them, their time has surely past. Then one day at a nightclub in Tangiers or on a bus in rural Albania you are suddenly reminded that the dancing […]

Bad Greenhouse Food

Plants, as readers will remember from High School Biology, perform photosynthesis to incorporate CO2 into carbohydrates in a solar-powered process. CO2 is also the main driver in what is known as the greenhouse effect: increased atmospheric CO2 concentrations derived from the burning of fossil fuels (coal and oil and their related products) trap the sun’s […]

Lend Me Your Ear (or Print Me A Copy)

Scientists are often half-jokingly asked “where is my flying car?” or “why doesn’t my doctor have a tricorder yet?”. Setting aside the fact that some things (for example, portable communication devices) have by now far exceeded anything Gene Roddenberry dreamt of in the 60s, scientists should note that the correct response to these questions (and many more […]

From the Open Access Web: The Genetics of Autism

Cortical neuronal networks as seen (and drawn) by Santiago Ramon y Cajal. The causes of autism continue to baffle both scientists and clinicians (to say nothing of patients and their families). We’ve even moved away from discussing a disease called ‘autism’ towards a much more nebulous aggregate of conditions now referred to as autism spectrum […]

On The Social Responsibility Of Scientists

A surprisingly humble moment from the great Richard Feynman on the absence of any special social wisdom in scientists as a group. This salutary reminder of the limits of “expert” knowledge  needs to be absorbed in the current climate of subjecting social decisions to allegedly “scientific” economics: “From time to time people suggest to me […]

Books For the Summer: The Eighth Day of Creation

Summer is here and everybody from the New York Times to Hustler is duly publishing recommended reads (i.e. “10 great summer reads”; “5 books for the beach” and Hustler’s ever popular “12 Books to Read Wrapped in Another Book’s Dustcover”).  Let’s start with an absolute classic, Horace Freeland Judson’s “The Eighth Day of Creation: Makers […]

Four Minutes of Math

Robert Hooke, eye of a fly, Micrographia, 1665. Hancock Collection, USC. Don’t worry, it’s painless. Aeon Films has posted a four minute short on mathematical relationships in nature, from the nautilus shell to floral architecture. For those interested in a discussion of the role of math in modern biology, Joel Cohen’s 2004 essay in PLOS is […]