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.]

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.]

Quiet: A Soldier’s Fight for the Most Silent Place in America

mossandforestthumbSeattle Met

A story about a fight over the value of quiet on the Olympic Peninsula:

… To find quiet means more than merely to escape noise. There is external stillness, when the din subsides and you can hear the gentler world beneath it—the stirring of wind, the susurration of water, the rush of your own inhalation. Then there is inner calm, when all of the jangling thoughts in your mind dissipate, and you can unclench your muscles and open to your senses. The latter kind of silence tends to require at least some of the former. Both are hard to find in a society whose increasing mobility is powered by the drone of internal combustion engines and the clamor of technology. [Read more.]

Evicted by Climate Change

johnfamthumbnl2Another installment in a series about climate change in Alaska: While reporting this story, I spent two and a half days stranded in a tiny airport in Bethel, Alaska, before finally arriving in the remote village of Newtok.

Hakai Magazine

… Even in the early days at Newtok, its residents could see that the tundra was warming and thawing, and that the river was eating the land around them. In the past few years, they have become famous, heralded by the international press as “America’s first climate refugees”(along with residents of two other Alaskan villages and a tiny Louisianan island community). Newtok is one of the first places in the United States that could be erased by the impacts of climate change. The US Army Corps of Engineers has estimated that erosion will ravage much of the village within the next decade. [Read more.]

How One Alaskan Community Is Attempting to Adapt to Climate Change

sfw_mo_2015-09-19-19.21.48-2One of a series of stories I pursued on a visit to rural Alaska a few months ago, some of the most challenging reporting I’ve ever done. This story appears in Audubon‘s January-February special issue on the Arctic.

Audubon Magazine

… The Bodfishes are Iñupiat hunters, a native subsistence culture that has dominated Alaska’s North Slope for more than 10,000 years. When I arrived at their home at dusk one evening in September, the yard was strewn with hunting equipment—outboard motorboats, a snowmobile, an ATV—and a partially carved-up caribou lay on top of a wooden table. [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.]