The writer on losing his mother to cancer, and on the science of grieving:
My mom died on July 18, 2013, of pancreatic cancer, a subtle blade that slips into the host so imperceptibly that by the time a presence is felt, it is almost always too late. Living about 16 months after her diagnosis, she was "lucky," at least by the new standards of the parallel universe of cancer world. We were all lucky and unlucky in this way. Having time to watch a loved one die is a gift that takes more than it gives.
Psychologists call this drawn out period "anticipatory grief." Anticipating a loved one's death is considered normal and healthy, but realistically, the only way to prepare for a death is to imagine it. I could not stop imagining it. I spent a year and a half writing my mother a goodbye letter in my head, where, in the private theater of my thoughts, she died a hundred times. In buses and movie theaters, on Connecticut Avenue and 5th Avenue, on crosswalks and sidewalks, on the DC metro and New York subway, I lost her, again and again. To suffer a loved one's long death is not to experience a single traumatic blow, but to suffer a thousand little deaths, tiny pinpricks, each a shot of grief you hope will inoculate against the real thing.
PUBLISHED: Dec. 3, 2013
LENGTH: 13 minutes (3466 words)
is a Senior Editor at Aeon Magazine
. He has written extensively about science and philosophy for several publications, including The Atlantic and The Economist.
Todd Purdum argues that President Obama’s isolation from the rest of Washington, D.C., has made him less effective as a politician over the last five years:
Obama is far from the first president—or the first suddenly world-famous figure—to keep his own counsel or to rely on the tightest possible circle of longtime advisers and old, close friends. More than 20 years ago, when Mario Cuomo was seen as the Democratic Party’s best hope for taking the White House, one knowledgeable New Yorker assured me that Cuomo would never run, because he could never bring himself to trust the number of people required to undertake an effective campaign. In February 2007, the week Obama declared his candidacy, his confidante Valerie Jarrett told me that she had warned him at a backyard barbecue in Chicago the previous fall, when his book tour for The Audacity of Hope was morphing into a presidential campaign, “You’ll never make any new friends.” Obama has since worked overtime to prove the prescience of Jarrett’s view.
PUBLISHED: Nov. 10, 2013
LENGTH: 12 minutes (3042 words)
On "the long-buried history of Nazi-era anatomy" which used corpses of political dissidents and euthanasia victims, and how the work haunts modern science:
Unlike the research of Nazi scientists who became obsessed with racial typing and Aryan superiority, Stieve’s work didn’t end up in the dustbin of history. The tainted origins of this research—along with other studies and education that capitalized on the Nazi supply of human body parts—continue to haunt German and Austrian science, which is only now fully grappling with the implications. Some of the facts, amazingly, are still coming to light. And some German, Austrian, and Polish universities have yet to face up to the likely presence of the remains of Hitler’s victims—their cell and bone and tissue—in university collections that still exist today.
This history matters for its own sake. It also matters for debates that remain unresolved—about how anatomists get bodies and what to do with research that is scientifically valuable but morally disturbing.
PUBLISHED: Nov. 6, 2013
LENGTH: 33 minutes (8426 words)
The writer, who was a K-12 educator for 10 years, on the decline of science education in the classroom and how it's affecting students and the way they view the world:
Sometimes we planted seeds and bulbs in paper cups and left them to sprout on the windowsill, but mostly I didn’t worry about science. I was teaching them to read; I was working on their cultural literacy.
But science is cultural literacy, a fact that became apparent when a friend teaching in the same school told me about getting her fifth graders ready for their statewide science test. Preparation was hurried, last-minute, cursory: their scores would not be held against our Adequate Yearly Progress, after all. My friend, however, did not want her students to feel blindsided by the test, so she had photocopied some handouts and sample questions. “I was trying to explain photosynthesis,” she said, “and one of my kids asked me, ‘How does a plant make their food? Do they use a microwave?’ What do you say to that?”
PUBLISHED: Nov. 4, 2013
LENGTH: 17 minutes (4498 words)
Dr. Stephen Hoffman has been searching for a way to eradicate malaria for the past 30 years. He may have found a vaccine to do it:
There was no way Hoffman was going to ask US Marines to line up for a thousand mosquito bites each. But he decided to repeat the irradiated-mosquito experiments to understand the science better.
Once again, Hoffman signed himself up for the study. In the mid 1990s, he returned to the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research to stick another pint-size container of insects against his arm. This time, the cylinder swarmed with hundreds of malaria-infected mosquitoes, each having been buzzed with a dose of radiation. The bloodthirsty insects left a circle of swollen red skin on his arm, but Hoffman didn’t stop until he had been bitten by 3,000 mosquitoes.
Weeks later, when he was infected with malaria, he didn’t get sick.
PUBLISHED: Oct. 23, 2013
LENGTH: 18 minutes (4718 words)
A cancer drug offers no obvious advantages over an alternative drug, but is also twice as expensive. Why? The writer looks at how drug companies determine prices:
"Because of medical insurance, co-pay reductions, and expanded access programs for the uninsured, relatively few Americans pay more than a few thousand dollars per year for even the most expensive drugs. The primary customers in the United States are not patients or even individual physicians, although physicians can drive demand for a drug; rather, the customers are the government (through Medicare and Medicaid) and private insurance companies. And since the insurer or government is picking up the check, companies can and do set prices that few individuals could pay. In the jargon of economics, the demand for therapeutic drugs is 'price inelastic': increasing the price doesn’t reduce how much the drugs are used. Prices are set and raised according to what the market will bear, and the parties who actually pay the drug companies will meet whatever price is charged for an effective drug to which there is no alternative. And so in determining the price for a drug, companies ask themselves questions that have next to nothing to do with the drugs’ costs. 'It is not a science,' the veteran drug maker and former Genzyme CEO Henri Termeer told me. 'It is a feel.'"
PUBLISHED: Oct. 22, 2013
LENGTH: 18 minutes (4609 words)
The writer on his experience being on the game show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?":
"Did I mention on my questionnaire that I could perform a serviceable impression of Chewbacca? Did I offer that up to them as proof of my willingness to give them whatever they wanted in exchange for a chance at their money? Yes. Yes, I did. The rest of my interview in the cramped bowels of the Apollo Theatre was merely a formality. I would be good on the show because of X, Y, and Z. When I was twelve, I was an actor in a sex-ed video starring Bill Nye the Science Guy. I would spend a million dollars on the world’s greatest first-anniversary present for my wife. Can I do the Chewbacca now? Of course I can. It is a great and unholy sound, and for several seconds all talk in that room came to an end. A guy who recognized the noise for what it was clapped from somewhere back in the line. I boarded the train back to Brooklyn, uncertain that I had succeeded, though I needn’t have doubted the Wookiee’s allure. Two weeks later, I received a postcard informing me that I was part of the 'contestant pool,' and a week after that a producer called to tell me that my episode would shoot in seven days’ time."
PUBLISHED: Sept. 21, 2013
LENGTH: 23 minutes (5816 words)
Fifteen-year-old Audrie Pott took her own life after nude photos of her were circulated around school by high school classmates. Three boys were later arrested and charged. It's "a shocking tale of sexual assault in the Digital Age" that's becoming less uncommon as a number of high-profile cases similar to Pott's makes headlines while many others go unreported:
"'It's a perfect storm of technology and hormones,' says lawyer Lori Andrews, director of the Institute for Science, Law and Technology in Chicago. 'Teen sexting is all a way of magnifying girls' fantasies of being a star of their own movies, and boys locked in a room bragging about sexual conquest.'
'But as of yet the law provides little protection to the rights of those violated. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act effectively means that no Internet provider can be forced to take down content for invading a person's privacy or even defaming them. 'I could sue The New York Times for invading my privacy or Rolling Stone for defaming me,' Andrews says. 'But I couldn't sue and get my picture off a website called sluttyseventhgraders.com.'
"The flip side of this ugly trend is that when gang-rape participants and bystanders record and disseminate pictures of an assault, public outrage is inflamed and cops and prosecutors have evidence they can take to court. This can mean rape victims get more justice than in years past. Arguably, the Steubenville rape would never have been prosecuted without the video. However, since so many of the incidents involve juveniles, punishment is neither swift nor certain."
PUBLISHED: Sept. 17, 2013
LENGTH: 24 minutes (6029 words)