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Science Writing: How Do You Make Complex Issues Accessible and Readable?


A five-way conversation published in the Observer between me, Stephen Pinker, Lone Frank, James Gleick, and Brian Greene about the state of science writing.

Moonwalking with Santa Claus


Order a signed copy of Moonwalking with Einstein. I'll inscribe your own holiday message.

Are you looking for just the right gift to give to that beloved uncle, aunt, cousin, or co-worker? May I humbly recommend a signed copy of Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything? Order by December 9th, and I’ll inscribe the book with whatever custom message you want (at no extra charge). Fill out the form and order now.

Learning Lingala


For my next long-term project, about the last hunter-gatherer societies, and what they can teach us, I’ve been spending time living with Mbendjele pygmies in the Republico of Congo. Here’s a piece I wrote for the Guardian Magazine about how I learned Lingala (or at least memorized the entire dictionary), using Ed Cooke’s web app, Memrise.

One of the great challenges of our age, in which the tools of our productivity are also the tools of our leisure, is to figure out how to make more useful those moments of procrastination when we’re idling in front of our computer screens. What if instead of tabbing over to the web browser in search of some nugget of gossip or news, or opening up a mindless game such as Angry Birds, we could instead scratch the itch by engaging in a meaningful activity, such as learning a foreign language?

If five million people can be convinced to log into Zynga’s Facebook game Farmville each day to water a virtual garden and literally watch the grass grow on their computer screens, surely, Ed believes, there must be a way to co-opt those same neural circuits that reward mindless gaming to make learning more addictive and enjoyable. That’s the great ambition of Memrise, and it points towards a future where we’re constantly learning in tiny chunks of our downtime.

Amateur Hour with America’s Foremost Picker of Locks


This Wednesday, November 14th, Schuyler Towne will try to convince you that locks are just social constructs. I’ll be interviewing Schuyler at 7pm at the Institute Library in New Haven. Join us.

Schuyler Towne is a competitive lockpicker and pioneer of the American Locksport movement. He is a founding board member of the Open Organization of Lockpickers, U.S. Chapter, and in 2007 launched Non-Destructive Entry magazine. Mr. Towne will both discuss the history of locks and lockpicking and demonstrate his special skill.

Please join Institute Library members and host Joshua Foer for a conversation with Mr. Towne Wednesday, November 14, at 7:00 p.m. Beer and wine will be available for purchase ($5 per drink), complimentary light refreshments will be provided by Atticus Bookstore and Café, and collectible limited editions of posters signed by Schuyler Towne and Josh Foer will be available for sale following the event.

Audience members are invited to bring with them the strongest locks they own.

Moonwalking Shortlisted for Royal Society Winton Prize


Moonwalking with Einstein has been shortlisted for the 2012 Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books, along with several extraordinary titles. From the Guardian:

If you love reading “stimulating, engaging, clear, accessible, and high-quality” science books, then you are going to love this: the Royal Society of London just announced the shortlist for this year’s Winton Prize for science writing. This Prize recognises and rewards books that make science more accessible to public adult audiences.

“This year’s shortlist is made up of fascinating, provocative books that really made us think about ourselves and the world around us — and parallel worlds”, Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell DBE FRS, chair of the judges, said in a press release.

“The books explore emerging issues, such as pandemics, as well as the more fundamental questions of what it truly means to be human, from our genetics, to our memories or our propensity for violence. Choosing a winner from these books, each of which has provided us with wonderful new insights, is a daunting prospect.”