I am Carl Zimmer, science writer. AMA!


I am a science columnist for The New York Times and author of 13 books about science, including Parasite Rex, Evolution: Making Sense of Life, and the forthcoming She Has Her Mother’s Laugh. (http://carlzimmer.com ) I’ve written for National Geographic, Wired,and The Atlantic and was a senior editor at Discover. I appear regularly on “Radiolab,” is an adjunct professor in Yale’s Department of Biophysics and Biochemistry, and have earned awards from the National Academies of Science, the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences, and the Society for the Study of Evolution. I’m speaking at the 2017 Aspen Ideas Festival about genomes, Neanderthals, viruses inside of us, and the future of making babies, . Comment your questions below!
Proof: https://i.redd.it/dkh0ft6iw16z.jpg

EDIT: Thanks everyone for your questions! I am going to close out this conversation, but look forward to doing another AMA soon.
FYI, here’s a blog post I just wrote for the Aspen Ideas Festival about the genetics revolution we’re living through. https://www.aspeninstitute.org/blog-posts/understanding-genetics-revolution/
Also, I’m giving a few different talks at the Aspen Ideas Festivalm and you will be able to find video and audio for them soon, at this link: https://www.aspenideas.org/speaker/carl-zimmer

EDIT: Whoa–a bunch of new questions showed up. I have some free time again, so I’ll try to respond to some of them. Thanks!

EDIT: Got to go!



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67 Comments

  • What books would you recommend to an almost 40 year old who enjoys science/learning but isn’t very smart? Asking for a friend.

  • What would be your advice for PhD students that want to break into science writing / science journalism?

  • What would you say is the greatest threat to the teaching of science here in the US, and how do we combat this?

  • What do you make of mainstream journalists/media figures completely misconstruing the results of scientific studies when reporting them to the public? Do you think that exacerbates public mistrust of scientists? Would educating them about basic research methods remedy this?

  • What’s your favorite way to combat writer’s block?
    Edit: Thanks!

  • You do a lot of work with Radio Lab. What’s it like working with Jad and Robert?

  • Hi Carl,

    As someone accustomed to explaining science to laypeople, how do you think lawyers could do the same for a judge and jury? So many cases hinge on scientific evidence, especially debunking bad science. How can my profession learn from yours in terms of making good science and complicated nuances easy to understand?

  • It increasingly seems that science has to be “clickable” to be funded. How can we fix this?

  • Hey mr zimmer I’m subscribed to your Friday elks and i love them. My question is why do you think that people don’t believe in evolution and is there a better way to teach it in schools?

  • Are you related to Hans? You must get that a lot but I just wanted to know

  • Would you rather robotic missions to every icy moon of Saturn and Jupiter, or people on mars before 2035?

  • Any advice on rationalizing with an irrational 3 year old?

  • Your wrote about the challenges of getting access to your genomic data in “Game of Genomes”. Do you think getting access to your own genomic data will become easier any time soon?

  • given the struggles and results of biosphere 2, and ignoring logistics of transporting materials and such. do you think permament/long term mission on mars is possible with current knowledge and technology?

  • Hi Carl. I love your books. I recommend Parasite Rex to every fellow sci-fi/fantasy writer I talk to. It’s inspired some of my work as well. Have you thought about writing fiction? Also, what is the strangest scientific topic you want to write about?
    PS. Did I mention I love Parasite Rex?

  • I’m a photographer with a background in science looking to tell more science stories, especially about the ocean and conservation. I’d really like to work with writers closely on their articles to tell a cohesive story. Do you have any advice for getting in touch with writers and developing stories?

  • How did you approach cold-calling sources for interviews before you had a powerful, “I’m a science journalist working for Company X” intro line?

  • What is your opinion on science based policy and the approach the current administration has taken science policy?

  • What was your favorite piece or book to write? How did you prepare for it? And what was the process you engaged in to do the deep work possible to make the piece/book?

  • So would it be best for someone with an actual scientific background to have a seat in then political arena? That way they be a bit more able to influence legislation.

  • I’m teaching a research methods course to a group of high school AP students this coming fall in which they will design and defend their own original research. Any advice (either for me or the students?)

  • There are certain points in life where we feel uninterested about what we’re doing or studying right now. How do you get over these periods of loss of inspiration ?

  • What steps should I take to put myself in the same career position as you?

  • what are some future projects you are targeting and would like to work on?

  • I want to be a science writer, where do I start?

  • Hey there! Could you tell me what you think about science in movies? What are the most and least accurate ones you can think of?

  • Can you please share your thoughts on how we can use story-telling to engage the layperson about big science issues like climate change and vaccination? Can an engaging story be created that parallels the inoculation effect of immunization with the protective effects of climate change (if we all do our part?). Thank you for indulging us with your thoughts and words.

  • suppose you froze to death somewhere and were revived in 1.3 million years, humanity have not visited much of the galaxy but we have filled this solar system and some others with small ring worlds to deal with living space. would you be satisfied with that future?

  • This might sound stupid but: What do you legitly think human’s next evolution in a hundred years will be? And why?

  • Carl, I am a big fan. I work for a major journal and am in the beginning stages of a science writing career and am looking to hear your opinion on the embargo system. I think I’ve see yor write elsewhere that we would get better stories without it. Could you elaborate on that a bit?

  • Hi Carl! In all honesty, I’m only familiar with your work through Radiolab. How did you come to start working with them?

  • What does Jad Abumrad smell like?

  • What came first, the chicken or the egg ?

  • What’s your opinion on how religion tries to combat science? For example, evolution, global warming, etc.

  • How do I get the science spark started for my kids?

  • Man, I’m always too late to these. If you ever come back and read comments, I’ve been a fan since I read Parasite Rex back in…was it the *nineties?* Anyway keep up the great work

  • [deleted]

  • Do you see science and spirituality dovetailing more or delineating more?

  • As a science writer, what’s your answer to how many genders are there?

  • How many first graders do you think you could take in a fight if they came at you in waves of 5 with a fifth grader boss every 10 waves?

  • How often do u get asked if you have anything to do with Hans Zimmer?

  • Were you saddened by the lack of interest in this ama?

  • What do you think is the better way to make the case for biodiversity conservation: describe the bad things that will happen if it isn’t done, or the good things that will happen if it is?

  • Hi Carl, I’m sure this is a question you get asked a lot. I love reading your articles and admire how effectively you’re able to communicate science to the general public. What is one tip that you could give on writing popular science articles?
    Cheers!

  • Have you ever been to a point where you have to resort in writing clickbait, pseudoscience articles?

  • Is there an average number of sources you must read or an amount of time you must take to understand a topic well enough to explain it?

  • What are the challenges of explaining science to the scientifically-illiterate population?

  • Hi Carl, in your studies are you familiar with an origin theory currently gaining traction, the Electric Universe, and its progenitor Worlds in Collision written by Immanuel Velikovsky?

  • What is your view on using CRISPR to edit the human germ line? Do you have any reservations on CRISPR research that involves human embryos?

  • What WOULD happen if an unstoppable force met an immovable object?

  • Do you notice differences in editorial control in your different venues?

  • Carl, are you aware that your last name means “room” in German?

  • Do you have any tips for how to break into science writing? I’m an aspiring science writer having some trouble breaking into the field.

    I have a B.S. in Microbiology and have been noticing that most science writing jobs seem to want someone with an advanced degree or considerable experience in the field. I also have a few years of ghostwriting experience under my belt, but due to the anonymity which that entails, I’ve been trying to break into more entry level science writing jobs with little success.

  • What’s one scientific fact that you feel more people should know?

  • Do you think learning about one system of science denial in great detail is the best way to inoculate yourself against other science denial?

  • What kind of music do you listen to?

  • As a science writer, as a species and as a civilization, are we doomed?

  • I loved Parasite Rex. Do you have any more ideas for interesting projects?

  • Hi Carl, I have recently started a Youtube channel attempting to introduce and explain some of the interesting and often overlooked concept across all scientific fields. Having recently graduated with a bachelors in Marine Biology I have to admit writing in a way that remains interesting for the reader is one of my weaker points.

    Do you have any tips or suggestions to improve the structure and flow of short scientific articles for the lay reader?

    Many thanks!

  • What are your favorite less-known science books?

  • Hello Carl, I was wondering what future (in development) technology has you most excited?

  • If you come back and peak…are you Dr Lewis Zimmerman’s greatx10 grandfather?

  • Are you going to start a religion?

  • What are some tips on getting published? I like to write education related/ date based articles, but I don’t know if ‘data’ is appealing…

  • Any advice for getting into science policy making? My career plan was to break into science writing/communication and go from there, but given some of the responses to the top question in the thread about this field being fiercely competitive, I’m wondering if I should take a different route re: graduate school focus.

  • Why are you taking questions from Internet failures?

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