Genes, Drugs, Autism, Crime, Suicide, Play: Selected Articles 2013


Library, Trinity College, Ireland

For posterity and ease-of-finding, here’s a chrono list of my more substantial publications of 2013. Fifteen pieces published elsewhere; one here at Neuron Culture; 30,000 some-odd words, not counting the interviews. A lighter year than some, since I was working mainly on The Orchid and the Dandelion, which I should finish in 2014 for publication in 2015.

My headline here makes the year sound much grimmer than it was. I actually find most of these articles optimistic.

Restless Genes, National Geographic (cover story), January 2013. How genes, culture, and luck made humans extraordinarily successful explorers.

David Quammen on turning research into story, Part I  and Part II, The Open Notebook, January 2013A talk with one of our best writers about how he gets it done. The two-part transcripts cover both a live interview and a continued conversation we had by phone.

Elsevier and Mendeley: Why the Science-Journal Giant Bought the Rebel Start-Up, The New Yorker, 12 April 2013. “When scholarly publishing behemoth Elsevier gobbled up London software start-up Mendeley earlier this week, many Mendeley users felt as if the Galactic Empire had coöpted the Rebel Alliance.” Can the Rebel Alliance change the Empire from inside?

David Dobbs on science writing: ‘hunt down jargon and kill it’.  The Guardian, 19 April 2013. On writing.

Zeal for Play May Have Propelled Human Evolution  The New York Times, 22 April 2013. How play makes us great.

Psychiatry: A very sad story, Nature, 2 May, 2013. A review of Gary Greenberg’s raucous account of the making of the DSM-5. Nature version is paywalled. Archive at Neuron Culture is free.

A Trudge to the Roots of Autism, The New York Times, 13 May 2013. My review of Temple Grandin’s The Autistic Brain.

Why Autopsy Gandolfini? Death Is Certain; Its Cause Is Not, Nautilus, 21 June 2013. Why would you autopsy someone when you know how they died? Because there’s a good chance you don’t.

Clues in the Cycle of Suicide, The New York Times, 24 June 2013. It may seem perverse that the period of spring and early summer should contain what Kay Redfield Jamison calls “a capacity for self-murder that winter less often has.” Yet it does.

“Exquisite wisdom can be hard to follow,”  MediumAn interview with Bobbie Johnson about writing, reading, George Smiley, and whiskey.

Genes Aren’t Just Architects; They’re Actors, Neuron Culture, 27 August 2013. On expanding our view of what genes are up to.

The Social Life of Genes: Shaping Your Molecular Composition, Pacific Standard, 3 Sept 2013Your genes are in constant conversation with your environment. It appears they pay special attention to your social life.

Genetics: The Rite Of Passage. Slate, 27 October 2013. Fine a gene, slap high-fives around the lab, publish to huzzahs, and then … uh-oh. On the humbling of genetics, and how the field is like Michelangelo’s David.

The F.D.A. vs. Personal Genetic Testing. The New Yorker, 27 Nov 2013. How 23andMe came a cropper.

Die, Selfish Gene, Die: Why it’s time to lay the selfish gene to rest, Aeon, December 2013. For decades, the selfish gene metaphor let us view evolution with greater clarity. Is it now blinding us?

Terrible Twos Who Stay Terrible, The New York Times, 16 Dec 2013.  “Dangerous criminals don’t turn violent. They just stay that way.”


2 responses

  1. In regards to your “Die, Selfish Gene, Die” article (and subsequent blowback), a paper challenging central tenets worth reading (which is even more emphatic than your piece):

    Physiology is rocking the foundations of evolutionary biology

    (Note particularly Table 1: Comparison between the Modern Synthesis and the proposed Integrative Synthesis)

    And, as vitally important and informative as that is, there is a still broader view to consider:

    “The behavior of the environment, and the behavior of that organism within that environment, is one behavior, and you mustn’t think of this deterministically. That is to say, as if the organism were something merely subservient to the environment. Nor must you think the opposite way, that the environment is something that can be pushed around by the organism. When an organism starts looking as if it were pushing its environment around, it simply means that the environment/organism, the total field, is changing itself.

    You learn to see that there is simply one behavior pattern working, which we will call the organism-environment, and if you understand that, you understand that YOU are this totality organism-environment, and so you are moving with it in the same way that all the organs of your physical body are moving together.

    So just as we are organized that way, as organisms, so also we are, although not aware of it, organized that way collectively as individuals relating to each other and relating to the other forms of life, and to the geology, and the meteorlogical and astronomical phenomena around us. Only we haven’t come to notice it. Our attention has been so fixed upon some of the details of this relationship, that we have created a system of details as if it were a separate physical system”

    – Alan Watts

    • There’s also a great lecture given by the author of that paper (Dr. Denis Noble) that can be found here:

      British Biologist Denis Noble Debunks Neo-Darwinism

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