ON THE THAWING TUNDRA, RESEARCHERS RACE TO UNDERSTAND BLACK CARBON’S CLIMATE IMPACT

This story took me to Arctic Alaska and was supported by a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism.

Ensia

On a morning in September 2015, sterile, gray Arctic light filtered through a blanket of woolly clouds as Matt Gunsch and Tate Barrett parked their rented pickup truck on a dirt road and clomped in rubber boots down a long, icy boardwalk to their air-monitoring laboratory on the tundra.

From the outside, the lab looked unglamorous — a dingy, white shack perched on a metal frame in a meadow speckled with snow and grass stubble. It felt distinctly like the middle of nowhere — though it was just a couple of miles beyond the main streets of Utqiaġvik, Alaska, the northernmost town in America. Inside the shack, a cracked window was patched with red tape. There was a shelf stacked with steel-toed and military-style “bunny” boots designed for extreme cold, tables scattered with miscellaneous lab supplies, a toaster oven — and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of air-monitoring equipment whose internal motors filled the room with a constant high-pitched hum. Partially isolated from the dirt and exhaust of town, this turned out to be a good place to try to sniff out small intruders in the delicate Arctic atmosphere. [Read more.]

How to Call BS in the Age of Alternative Facts

Seattle Met Magazine

Some tips for taking aim at alternative facts, from two data scientists at the University of Washington.

 

Photo by scattered1

In early January this year, several days before the presidential inauguration, University of Washington professor Carl Bergstrom invited his colleague, Jevin West, over to his North Seattle house. Beers in hand, the two sat in the living room with their laptops, putting the finishing touches on the website for their new spring class, provocatively named “Calling Bullshit in the Age of Big Data.” They had talked about the class syllabus for months: a set of lessons that would help students detect and call out falsehoods and perversions of logic, a la George Orwell, not just in rhetoric but in the form of bogus statistics and shoddy mathematical analyses. At about 11pm, the syllabus went live, West went home, and they each “went to bed and thought, I hope that some of our friends have seen it and don’t think it’s too stupid,” Bergstrom says. [Read more.]

Science Isn’t Just for Scientists—We Can All Take Part

YES! Magazine

I wrote the lead article to the YES! issue on science, which became especially timely when it was published about a month into the Trump presidency.

… If federal politicians wage war on scientific institutions, can the public take ownership of science again? There are signs that the internet and global technology are reviving the role of citizens in documenting how the world around us is changing. [Read more.]

Hope and Resistance in Seattle

Seattle’s Discovery Park

Seattle Met Magazine

What happens in Seattle when D.C. is unfriendly to this city’s progressive politics? I contributed two stories to Seattle Met‘s February issue series. Herein, you can find out what makes Seattle a sanctuary city and read about the history of the Bainbridge Island Japanese-American community, the first people forced to relocate to internment camps in 1942, by presidential executive order.

Scott Pruitt Doesn’t Know the Power of the E.P.A.

The New Yorker

I interviewed the E.P.A.’s first administrator, William Ruckelshaus, in time for the confirmation hearings for the next nominee to head the agency.

In the early nineteen-sixties, a young lawyer named William Ruckelshaus was assigned to Indiana’s state board of health to prosecute cases of toxic dumping. At the time, it was commonplace for manufacturers to discard untreated industrial swill—ammonia, cyanide, pesticides, petroleum waste, slag from steel plants, “pickle liquor” (sulfuric acid)—into the nearest sewer, river, or lake. Sometimes, it formed piles of noxious froth nearly as tall as a house. “Those rivers were cesspools,” Ruckelshaus told me recently. [Read more.]

What Poverty Does to the Young Brain

Photo by Jill Carlson

Photo by Jill Carlson

My first story for Elementsthe online science section of the New Yorker, was the #1 most popular story on the site on the afternoon it was first published.

The New Yorker

… As it turns out, the conditions that attend poverty—what a National Scientific Council report summarized as “overcrowding, noise, substandard housing, separation from parent(s), exposure to violence, family turmoil,” and other forms of extreme stress—can be toxic to the developing brain, just like drug or alcohol abuse. [Read more.]

Can the Stuck-in-Place Economy Help Us Face Climate Change?

YES! Magazine

After I finished high school in the flat, square corn country of central Illinois, I fled—along with many of my fellow classmates. We chased jobs or graduate school in places like San Francisco, New York, or Washington, D.C. I settled in Seattle. It wasn’t until I hit my 30s that I became aware of the social costs of this mobility … .

But in the last couple of years, Americans have begun to change their itinerant ways. Since the mid-1980s, an ever-smaller percentage of people are changing locations. [Read more.]