Tag Archives: Scientists

The incurables

I’m working on the most interesting article ever right now. There’s nothing that gets me going like digging into a sector of really specialized science.

I was 19 when I decided that I wanted to be a science journalist. I’d been told by a guidance counselor my freshman year of high school that as a woman with a high aptitude for math and science, I would make more money than any of my peers if I went into engineering. But I’ve always been a writer and, when I got to engineering school, was quickly disgusted with the way writing was used. We were told to “forget everything you ever knew about writing, because you’re only going to write technical papers now.” And I thought, What? Science is already hard enough for people to digest as is, now they want us to use language to obfuscate it even more form public understanding?

After two years in the biomedical engineering program, I transferred to the Literature Science & Arts college and ended up majoring in psychology because I’d already had a ton of credits from taking those classes for fun. I joined the student newspaper the summer before my junior year. They’d just scrapped their weekly science section because nobody wanted to write about science. So I single-handedly covered all the science I could in this massive research university.

In my run at the Michigan Daily, I tried other kinds of journalism too—political, academic, cultural. I hated all of it, and I suspect the editors used to give me dull assignments like covering the student government’s meetings in retaliation because they would get frustrated trying to edit me on science. They would always try to change my language to make things more sensational or dumb stuff down, but often times it would change the meaning and make a statement inaccurate so I would insist they change it back. I did, however, take in interest in legal and political journalism, and got quite involved in covering a multimillion dollar lawsuit the University was facing for attempting to violate the American’s With Disabilities act to renovate The Big House, the football stadium. I enjoy debating, and the University’s plot was rich with semantical holes and numbers that didn’t quite add up, which I just dug into. I made quite a few enemies, one spectacular one who told me I should be a lawyer. I’m still considering this advice.

What I eventually concluded though is that science journalism is my calling. I never get bored. I never run out of ideas. I rarely get stressed because I can’t find a route to understanding some concept that I must then find a way to explain. And the best part is the scientists. While most people journalists need to interview spend a tremendous amount of effort figuring out how to side skirt questions and hide the truth, the truths that scientists have is already hidden. They are hidden in concrete basement laboratories, behind the wild eyes and bizarre mannerisms of people who care so deeply about one tiny sliver of the physical world that they sometimes find themselves locked away from the rest of humanity behind the same communication walls I saw myself approaching and decided to James Bond it around the ledge instead. Scientists are thrilled when someone has a genuine interest in unearthing their secrets. They are my favorite.

Why TV sucks but The X-Files is AWESOME (Video of the best monologue in TV history)

I don’t watch TV. I’ve only had cable for probably three or four years in my life, and I don’t desire to have it now. I didn’t notice for weeks when the cable companies switched everything over to digital, and since noticing I’ve never bothered to get the free converter to have basic channels. I hate being advertised at and think most every series is mind-numbing crap – especially reality TV. I would rather read the worst book in the world than watch the best episode of reality TV. When I do watch TV, I make sure it’s with my quirkier friends who won’t mind my cynical analyses of how different aspects of the programming are exploitative or manipulative.

Because I watch TV so rarely, whenever I do watch it I feel estranged from the bulk of humanity. Like how do enough people place enough value in this show to keep it on-air? Maybe this makes me out-of-touch, I don’t know, but I’d like to think that by controlling the way I consume media, using the Internet as practically my sole method of obtaining and verifying information about the world, I am more in-touch than those who fill their brains with memories of whateverthefuck the characters on The Hills names are ate for dinner last week. To each her own, but I tend to subscribe to Chomsky’s idea that things like shitty TV serve to distract people from stuff that’s really important.

That said, I am an X-Files fanatic. Not as much of a fanatic as many, I’m sure. But watching this series (the early seasons) is what I consider to be one of life’s finer pleasures.

Fox_Mulder_and_Dana_Scully

In the summer of 2007, I watched 100 episodes of the X-files back-to-back, checking out every disc of seasons one through four. The librarian at the UnderGraduate LibrarY got to know well for that, and out of some kind of solidarity over the X-Files he waved my late fees whenever he had the chance.

You may find it hypocritical, given my stance on TV in general, but I think the X-Files is different from other shows. I hold it partially responsible for my healthy sense of skepticism, and find that it nurtures, not distorts, my sense about science and journalistic inquisitiveness. Yes, the show involves paranormal activity, but the science is astoundingly solid compared to almost any other show I’ve seen. Through the dynamic interactions of the main characters, FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, different philosophical concepts of science are explored as these individuals attempt to explain the things they encounter. Scully always approaches situations from her base of medical and scientific knowledge, often ruling out Mulder’s initial hypotheses as unfeasible. But she reevaluates her belief system in a Bayesian manner when new evidence is presented, which is a crucial ability of good scientists, IMO.

I haven’t watched it years, mainly because I watched most of those 100 episodes with my ex-boyfriend and it still reminds me of him, but yesterday I rented season 4. My motivation for doing so was actually rather vindictive; the other day my roommate borrowed a movie called the Audition and left it sitting by the DVD player. She thought it would be about an actual audition, and she’s a dancer so that sounded interesting to her. But after watching it and discovering it’s actually a really fucked-up and gruesome Japanese horror movie about an woman who maims and tortures the object of her sexual desire (needles through eyes, severed foot, ugh), she NEGLECTED to WARN me about it and just left it sitting there! And then she thought it was funny when I sent her text messages telling her I was on the verge of puking after watching it and am traumatized for life with those images burned into my mind, because for some reason it didn’t phase her. That may sound dramatic but I don’t watch TV!!! I’m easily affected by the media! OK I’m over it now (good thing I’m resillient). But I still wanted payback. Even though my roomie is apparently more hardcore than Rob Zombie when it comes to gory films, we’ve been best friends since we were 10 years old, so I know that what DOES phase her is inbred mutant people — especially inbred mutant babies. So I rented the X-Files season that contains an episode with that very subject matter, and just so happens to be the only episode that the Fox network refused to play again after it initially aired in 1996 (although they did play it once again years later on Halloween with an MA rating), and made her watch it with me last night.

PAYBACK! She’s going to have nightmares for weeks! We really do love each other though.

Anyway, now that I’ve got the whole season, I can’t not watch every single one of them. They’re SO AMAZINGLY GOOD. It’s the perfect balance of suspense, horror, comic relief, and of course… sexual tension.

MulderScully_sexualtension

Scully, you know you want to lean in a little closer…

Ahem, anyway, I just started watching one of the best episodes ever — the episode that goes into the back-story of Cigarette Smoking Man, AKA Cancer Man, who is actually a really sensitive guy who only wanted to publish a novel but after being rejected by the publishers, assassinated JFK and Martin Luther King Jr. instead. Hey, we can’t all have our first-choice careers. Here is one of the greatest monologues of all time that makes me weirdly happy inside because, for one, I can be a raging cynic despite my outwardly cheery disposition, and two, I have always thought Forest Gump was a terrible movie that got way too much credit.