Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Bio
My favorite things to think about are how science and technology are changing our lives and what we can do as individuals to steer that process. As a journalist with a PhD from MIT in the history of technology, I find that those questions contain a lifetime's worth of stories.
Until a few years ago, I identified as a longform, text-only journalist. But now I claim multiple citizenship in the lands of print and online journalism and audio production for podcasts and radio. I launched my podcast Soonish in January 2017. It’s a nonfiction, reporting-driven show where I search out people who can help me map the places where the future is seeping into the present. I'm now making Season 3 of the show.
In October 2017 I teamed up with Tamar Avishai of The Lonely Palette and Zachary Davis and Nick Andersen of Ministry of Ideas to form a new network of high-quality, longform, narrative nonfiction shows called Hub & Spoke. Our mission is to promote independent podcasting, provide a supportive community for our member producers, and grow the audiences for our shows together. We started with a Boston-centric "hub" and we’re recruiting more “spokes” from outside Boston. Currently the collective also includes Culture Hustlers from Lucas Spivey, Iconography from Charles Gustine, The Constant from Mark Chrisler, Open Source from Christopher Lydon and Mary McGrath, Rumble Strip from Erica Heilman, and Subtitle from Patrick Cox and Kavita Pillay. You can read more about the thinking behind Hub & Spoke here.
In 2019 I joined Scientific American as a monthly columnist. My column is called “Ventures: The Business of Innovation,” and—true to my work at Soonish and before that at Xconomy—I use it to ask how new technologies emerge and how people experience them. My first column appeared in the February 2019 issue. So far I’ve covered topics ranging from machine-made music to the resurgence of nuclear power to the death of voice telephony.
To back up by about 30 years: I got my start in journalism at the Harvard Independent, the weekly alternative student newspaper at Harvard College, where I was news editor, executive news editor, and eventually editor-in-chief. Today I’m chair of the Indy's graduate board, which handles fundraising and oversees the newspaper's endowment. In 2019 the Independent is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
At Harvard I earned a B.A. in the history of science, and then went on to earn a doctorate history and social study of science and technology at MIT's Program in Science, Technology, and Society. I was the first scholar to complete this new PhD program, in 1994. My PhD thesis examined the political fallout from major technological disasters such as the blackouts in New York City in 1965 and 1977, the nuclear accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, and the devastating chemical leak at Bhopal.
In my first real journalism job, I spent three years covering the Boston-area science scene as a reporter for Science. While there I developed a specialized beat covering evolutionary developmental genetics, a field that was then in its first bloom of discovery. In 1997 I left Boston for the San Francisco Bay Area and became managing editor of supercomputing publications at NASA Ames Research Center. Later I was a web editor at e-book pioneer NuvoMedia, creator of the Rocket eBook (a precursor to the Amazon Kindle). In 2001 I joined MIT’s Technology Review magazine, where I served senior editor and San Francisco bureau chief and later as executive editor of Technologyreview.com.
In 2007 I went to work for Xconomy, a national news publication about the startup culture and innovation, where I was the editor of Xconomy Boston, founding editor of Xconomy San Francisco, managing editor of the site’s Xperience section, and finally editor-at-large. In addition to my regular news stories for Xconomy, I wrote an opinion column every Friday called VOX: The Voice of Xperience.
In 2014-15, I returned to MIT to become Acting Director of Knight Science Journalism at MIT, the world's leading mid-career fellowship program for journalists covering science, technology, health, and the environment. Founded by veteran science journalist Victor McElheny and endowed by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the fellowship brings about a dozen distinguished science and technology journalists to MIT each year. I managed the program's budget, staff, and curriculum and arranged a year of rewarding experiences for the 2014-15 Knight Fellows. As part of the KSJ job, I was the executive producer and chief fundraiser for ScienceWriters2015, held at MIT October 9-13, 2015. I spent the remainder of the 2015-16 academic year as a research associate in MIT's Program in Science, Technology, and Society, working with a group of colleagues to study ways to encourage deeper engagement between scientists, engineers, and the public. My two-year MIT gig ended in June 2016, but I have a continuing appointment at MIT as a research affiliate in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, and I’m a part-time instructor for MIT’s Experimental Study Group.
In January 2017, I was invited by Jason Pontin, the former editor-in-chief of MIT Technology Review, to edit the 2018 edition of Twelve Tomorrows, an anthology of hard science fiction stories. That volume, published by The MIT Press in May 2018, featured marvelous stories by Elizabeth Bear, SL Huang, Clifford V. Johnson, J. M. Ledgard, Liu Cixin, Ken Liu, Paul McAuley, Nnedi Okorafor, Malka Older, Sarah Pinsker, and Alastair Reynolds, as well as an interview with renowned science fiction author Samuel R. Delany by Jason Pontin and Mark Pontin. The anthology is available in soft cover or Kindle ebook formats.
The Twelve Tomorrows project led to a contract for a second MIT Press book, Extraterrestrials, which is scheduled for publication in April 2020. It’s an exploration of the long history of the idea that intelligent aliens might exist. It’s structured around the big question: Where is everybody? Other civilizations ought to be common in the Milky Way galaxy, yet as far as we can tell, we are alone. What might explain this apparent paradox?
In addition to my books, articles, and writings in Science, Scientific American, Technology Review, and Xconomy, I have contributed to The Boston Globe, IEEE Spectrum, Encyclopaedia Brittanica, Technology and Culture, Alaska Airlines Magazine, World Business, Nieman Storyboard, and WBUR's Cognoscenti. I’m the producer of MIT Technology Review’s Business Lab podcast and my radio pieces have been broadcast on WBUR and WHYY. I've been a guest of NPR, CNN, CNBC, NECN, WGBH, the PBS NewsHour, and Wisconsin Public Radio and PRX’s To the Best of Our Knowledge. In April 2018 I performed live on stage for Story Collider, and my story was later included in the Story Collider podcast.
Recent Media Appearances
Stride & Saunter, November 6, 2019
Boston Speaks Up, Episode 17, July 9, 2019
Bello Collective: Welcome to the Overwhelm, May 30, 2019
How Do We Fix It?, Episode 191, February 7, 2019
New Books in Science Fiction, October 28, 2018
Meet Wade Roush of Soonish in Cambridge, BostonVoyager, July 3, 2018
Inquiring Minds, Episode 95, 2015
Conversations on Passion, Crazy Enough to Try, March 20, 2014