Old and New: An Introduction

Greetings. As I bring in my html luggage and unpack, let me stop for a moment to introduce myself and this blog.

I’m a science writer. I started out at Discover, where I ended up as a senior editor before heading out into the freelance world in 1999. Since then I’ve written for a number of magazines, and over the last couple years I’ve been writing pretty regularly for the Science Times section of the New York Times.

I also write books, which I’ve placed in the left column for those who are interested. I’m now trying to crank through the sixth, a biography of Escherichia coli (at least when I’m not bogged down in the mysteries of Moveable Type).

My interests may seem scatter-shot. I’ve written about lampreys, aspens, viruses, whales with legs, musical hallucinations, synthetic life, leeches, mole brains, tapeworms, snake venom, chimpanzees, chromosomes, malaria, jellyfish, colic, castrating bacteria, penguin waddling, slime molds, and brain-controlled robots. Among other things. I may well have an undiagnosed case of ADD, but I think that this random walk is not entirely random. What joins these subjects together is a fascination with life–four billion years of unimaginable biological luxury.

That fascination propels this blog as well. I started it about two and half years ago as a way to write about stuff I came across that didn’t seem right for pitching to editors but which I couldn’t stop thinking about. It’s ballooned into a pretty substantial slice of my time now. It’s not a great way to pay the bills, but it’s been gratifying to get a couple of honors for my efforts. For most of the Loom’s existence, it’s been hosted by the fine site, Corante. I recommend it to all readers for a panoply of interesting blogs, mostly on technology. I’m now looking forward to the virtual company of the scienceblog bloggers, many of whom I’ve been reading for some time now.

Here’s a rough anatomy of my blogging, with some examples I offer for your enjoyment:

1. Essays. Sometimes the only way to really make sense of a subject is to delve deep. I like to take some aspect of nature and look at how recent research has given us a deeper understanding of it. Some of my favorite examples include

The Wisdom of Parasites (don’t miss the follow-up video–unsuitable for young cockroaches).

Hamilton’s Fall (an essay on autumn leaves, followed up here).

2. Added Value. Every couple weeks or so I have a new article published in a paper or magazine. I point blog readers to new pieces (either on the publication web site, or at my own article archive). These posts also give me a chance to expand a little–to mention something that got cut for space, to tie the article into some bigger picture.

New Life for Old. This a post about an article I wrote for Discover on biologist Jack Szostak, who is trying to reproduce what many scientists believe was the first life form on Earth. Scientists don’t stop their research when we science writers publish our articles (curses!), but at least on a blog it’s possible to addd a follow-up.

3. A Personal Science News Wire. I like to keep up with certain lines of research. For some reason the tiny hominid Homo floresiensis, a k a the Hobbit, has been obsessing me. Here’s the archive.

4. Book and Lecture News. I talk pretty regularly around the country. Tonight, for instance, I’m talking at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts). I like to give fair warning, so people can plan to come to my talks or clear out of town as they see fit.

When a book is coming down the pike, I also like to give a heads up, and to discuss some of the stuff in it. Right now, the next thing coming in on the radar is the fall 2006 reissue of my book, Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea, with a new introduction.

5. When Science and Politics Collide. The job of a science writer is chiefly to explain science–to describe the history of scientific research, to lay out important debates, to explore the potential impact of new discoveries. Those are the subjects I generally stick with, and as a result I may sometimes seem a bit out of place in a blogosphere dominated by fierce politics. On the other hand, a science writer should not shrink from pointing out misinformation and other clear abuses of science. And the science I’m most interested in these days–evolution–has been mightily abused in recent years.

That’s all for now. I am still tinkering with the site, trying to organize its features and looking for bad links and other glitches. Leave any complaints or requests in the comments, or email me at blog at carlzimmer dot com.

When I get back home Sunday, I’m sure there will be a world of new things to blog about. There always is.