Gay Genes, Death Papers, Parasites, Neanderthals, & Anja Niedringhaus. My Reads of the Week

An Afghan walks in a river bed. Photo by the late Anja Niedringhaus

The world has lost a truly splendid photographer — Anja Niedringhaus, murdered this week in Afghanistan. This was a determined, brave journalist and an unbelievably sensitive artist, finely attuned to both the technical demands and possibilities of every image and, even more exquisitely, the humanity of those in the frame. This is a terrible, terrible loss.…

A Talk on Writing About Young Brains, Mon, April 7 at University of Vermont

Photograph by Kitra Cahana, all rights reserved.

  Monday, April 7, 5 pm, at the University of Vermont, I’ll talk about how to shape a mess of reading and reporting into a magazine story — specifically, “Beautiful Brains,” my National Geographic cover story about adolescent brain and behavior. If you’re around Burlington, come join us. Event is free and open to the public. Here’s…

Tiny Slow Sea Life Made Big Fast and Gorgeous

As someone on Twitter put it, marine invertebrates usually don’t get the glamour treatment. Here they do — amazing corals and sponges do, anyway — in Daniel Stoupin‘s splendid Slow Life .

From the filmmaker:

“Slow” marine animals show their secret life under high magnification. Corals and sponges are very mobile creatures, but their motion is only detectable at different time scales compared to ours and requires time lapses to be seen. These animals build coral reefs and play crucial roles in the biosphere, yet we know almost nothing about their daily lives.

Learn more about what you see at

Bet seen on a large screen! You won’t be able to appreciate this clip or see individual cells moving in a sponge on a smartphone.

Please do not share this clip to promote or endorse marine aquarium industry. Do not misunderstand this statement: I have no problems with aquarists or the industry. I simply want people to admire life, but not to be told to buy stuff.

More about using my videos:

Marquis de Sade Talking Serious Trash

De Sade strikes back.

When a writer published a scathing and premature death notice about Marquis de Sade, the latter penned the withering dismissal below. This gem came to me via the invaluable Letters of Note and the incomparable Stephen Fry. (Passage transcribed below.) I think I’ll keep a copy of the last paragraph in a keystroke macro so I…

The Neuroscience of Disillusionment


The brain craze was bound to go through the usual hype cycle, so we shouldn’t be surprised that some of us are rolling back our enthusiasms for brain-based explanations of, well, everything. Welcome to those slippery slopes between the peak of inflated expectations and the slope of enlightenment. And welcome, too, to reconsiderations like that…

Psych Symptoms Less Biology “Than a Kind of Language”

Demoniaque, by Rubens. Courtesy Wellcome Images

  Is mental illness a product of biology or culture? Ethan Watters, over at Pacific Standard, argues that whatever the biology involved in mental illness, its expression and our responses to it are shaped by culture far more than we realize. The resounding lesson of the history of mental illness is that psychiatric theories and diagnostic…

A Calm Eye on the Selfish Gene Storm

Lizard v grasshopper

Over at the Genetic Literacy Project, editor Kenrick Vezina offers a particularly level-headed and constructive consideration of the debate over the fitness of the selfish-gene metaphor that my Aeon article “Die, Selfish Gene, Die,” raised. Violence of the title aside, [Dobbs's] point was not that we should go out and gather up all the copies of…