Why can’t science solve our most basic question of survival?

Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Conrad Baker.

Growing up in Minnesota in the 1980s, my family’s kitchen was a scullery for healthy, common sense, midwestern eating. Children of a physician father and a nurse mother, my siblings and I were fed low-fat, low-salt, sensible portions of roast chicken and boiled potatoes, wild rice casserole, very well-cooked vegetables — and woefully deprived of fast food, Hostess snacks, and soft drinks (we called it ‘pop’).

And no butter for us; we ate margarine. Fleischmann’s margarine, to be precise. Every morning my dad would make a big stack of toast slathered with the stuff. And when I got home from…


Image for post
Image for post
Proportionally sized map of global deaths from malaria, from worldmapper

Why are the most basic problems in medicine some of the hardest to solve? This series explores the big questions that science is still struggling to answer.


Even as the NIH spins up another Big Science gambit, it’s time to tap the power of little moments.

Next week, the National Institutes of Health starts workshopping its $215 million precision medicine initiative at NIH headquarters in Bethesda, a grand plan to measure the genomes, microbiomes, and other biomarkers of one million Americans, with the eventual goal of matching medications to people with molecular accuracy. It sounds like an amazing future. But as with its forebearers, the $3 billion Human Genome Project and the $4.5 billion BRAIN Initiative, that future is a long way off — think decades, not years.

It’s worth noting that there’s a faster and cheaper — yet no less radical — way to improve…


How Iowa corn, the germ theory, and Google Glass help explain how technology changes our lives

IN THE EARLY 1950S, A SECRET FORMULA SPREAD from the front lines of World War II to rural Iowa — and changed the way we think about technology and innovation.

2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, or 2,4-D, was a synthetic plant hormone developed by British scientists during the war to boost production of food crops. A chemist at Iowa State University heard about it and thought it might be useful to local corn farmers as an herbicide. Using 2,4-D on weeds might cause the pests to, in effect, grow themselves to death.

The first test of 2,4-D was…

Thomas Goetz

Co-founder of Iodine, former executive editor of Wired, friend of data, writer of books. Latest: The Remedy.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store