The best Halloween stories are true. There is a lake in Tanzania, Lake Natron, that is so hostile to life that only two species, alkaline tilapia and blue-green algae can live in its deadly waters. For the rest of us, its water is so caustic it will burn your lungs (and melt the ink off your film boxes, if you’re a photographer) as it turns you slowly to stone. Nobody knows exactly how it kills, but it is thought that its thick, stagnant waters produce a surface so glassy calm that birds and small mammals are lured into its clutches like a songbird to a window on a sunny day. But whatever they see in the reflection is only a mirage and once immersed, the heavy waters trap the unlucky victims, turning them to stone.Calcified Bat II, Lake Natron, 2012 (C) Nick Brandt 2013 Courtesy of Hasted Kraeutler Gallery, NY [More]
Like a kid who skips the copyright information that precede iPad games, I go straight to the clinical cases in the New England Journal of Medicine whenever I get my hands on a copy. Recently I browsed through a bunch of cases in the online archives. In 1823, the journal called these vignettes “hospital reports.” Some could have been penned by Dickens himself. In one particular case, a 70-year-old man from the coastal city of Duxbury walked into Massachusetts General Hospital with a “dreadfully painful complaint in the face.” A certain Dr. Warren listened carefully to the patient’s symptoms. These are duly recorded in the hospital report. If I had the means to subscribe to NEJM , I would know how the story ends (the rest is behind a paywall).
Case studies may be biased toward a single individual or a small group of people. However, until more evidence can be built up, they are necessary for tracking mysterious and established disease conditions that suddenly appear on scene. At the beginning of October, I didn’t have any particular condition in mind when I started my highly arbitrary “clean eating” diet. The experiment was a great excuse to think about food. It was also a study in personal health. Whether I had primed myself to think I felt healthier or not, I did notice feeling better after certain meals. I thought about the ingredients of everything I ate. I wondered which countries the ingredients came from. Not for my vegetables, though. I’d met the farmers who grew my tomatoes, Swiss chard, green okra and fingerling potatoes.[More]
Here is the link to the YouTube video of my panel discussion with Steven Weinberg , Sara Seager and Neil Turok . I was very pleased to have a productive conversation about the future of science with such sparkling and provocative thinkers. I was also gratified to be able to bring a biology perspective to a discussion immersed in physics and astronomy; there is no doubt that while physics and astronomy will continue to generate astonishing insights into the universe, many of the most pressing problems in science and ethics confronting us in this century will come from biology. The discussion was preceded by an interview with Commander Chris Hadfield who delighted us from the International Space Station with music, videos and lucid demonstrations of science under zero gravity conditions. As with any discussion there was not enough time to say everything we wanted, so I want to summarize the discussion here and note some additional thoughts. Since we all addressed each other on a first name basis on the show, that’s how I will address my fellow panelists here.[More]
Is privacy dead? If so, did the Web kill it or did the NSA? What is privacy, anyway? And if we decide it’s worth preserving, how can we do that? For our November issue , computer scientist, musician, writer and thinker Jaron Lanier wrestled with these questions at length. After he was done we gave him a call to talk about his main points. Here’s the conversation.[More]
For a president who sailed into office on a digital-heavy campaign that helped engineer his victory, the crippling glitches plaguing the October 1 HealthCare.gov rollout were a rare mar on the administration’s tech-savvy record. Now the website snafu is fostering an intense hatred of the word “glitch” and fueling a steady stream of vitriol at Capitol Hill hearings.[More]
Celia Cruz, known for her flamboyant stage presence and brag-worthy voice, brought salsa music to the world stage. Today would have been her 88th birthday.