Writing

In addition to my scientific research, I write for popular audiences about topics related to science. My work has appeared in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, Wired, New Scientist, and The Boston Globe, where I am a regular contributor to the Ideas section. In addition, I have a blog called Social Dimension at Wired. I am the author of a book about how knowledge changes over time, entitled The Half-Life of Facts (Current / Penguin). I also created something called The Milky Way Transit Authority – a map of our galaxy in the style of a subway map – which you might have heard of.


It’s complicated: Human ingenuity has created a world that the mind cannot master. Have we finally reached our limits? Aeon Magazine, January 6, 2014

Let’s Bring The Polymath–and the Dabblers–Back Wired Opinion, December 13, 2013

Five myths about big data Washington Post, August 16, 2013

‘Dark Intellectual Property’: Why We Need a Kickstarter for Patents Wired Opinion, July 25, 2013

Stumbling Toward Greatness: Even Darwin and Einstein overlooked problems and neglected details in their work (book review) Wall Street Journal, June 8, 2013

Explain It to Me Again, Computer: What if technology makes scientific discoveries that we can’t understand? Slate, February 25, 2013

Math as Myth Nautilus, Issue 0, 2013

The Limits of Urban Planning With LEGOs The Atlantic Cities, February 12, 2013

Stop Hyping Big Data and Start Paying Attention to ‘Long Data’ Wired Opinion, January 29, 2013

Why Do Great Ideas Take So Long to Spread? Harvard Business Review, November 27, 2012

Who Needs Players? Simulated Games Are the Future of Sports Wired Opinion, November 22, 2012

The Needlessly Inscrutable Geography of Science Funding The Atlantic Cities, November 5, 2012 (with Jordan Bell-Masterson)

Be Forewarned: Your Knowledge is Decaying Harvard Business Review, November 5, 2012

Not Everyone Launches a Startup in the Bay Area CNBC, October 23, 2012

The hidden rules that shape human progress BBC Future, October 18, 2012

From Insight to Naches Arc 1.3, Fall, 2012

The Importance of Computational Discoveries in Health, The Atlantic, October 3, 2012.

Big data: Mind the gaps Boston Globe, September 30, 2012. Ideas.

Paradox of Hoaxes: How Errors Persist, Even When Corrected Wired Opinion, September 27, 2012

Change: The One Enduring Principle Forbes, September 27, 2012

Facts change, people don’t Salon, September 25, 2012

Truth decay: The half-life of facts New Scientist, September 19, 2012

Why America’s Religious Jews May Not Be Able to Move Back Downtown The Atlantic Cities, August 8, 2012

Lonely invention WLTM clever stranger for fun and profit Research Fortnight, July 11, 2012

Introducing the human computer: How a circuit made of people could be the building block of a new field Boston Globe, June 17, 2012 (with Nicholas Christakis).

The Mathematical Puzzle That Is the Complexity of the City. The Atlantic Cities, June 13, 2012.

The Invisible Borders That Define American Culture. The Atlantic Cities, April 26, 2012.

How Big Is Your City, Really? The Atlantic Cities, March 9, 2012.

New Ways to Measure Science Wired, January 9, 2012.

Scientists, Share Secrets or Lose Funding Bloomberg, January 9, 2012.

Do Rankings Affect Our Opinions of Cities? The Atlantic Cities, January 5, 2012.

How long will America last? An impossible question, answered with math. Boston Globe, October 30, 2011. Ideas.

Street Talk: Personalized Subways Scientific American, September 2011.

Traces of humanity: What aliens could learn from the stuff we’ve left in space Boston Globe, August 7, 2011. Ideas.

In Praise of Mediocre Research Longshot Magazine, Issue 2, July 31, 2011.

Why Science Drama Would Make Great TV Wired Science, June 15, 2011.

The Social Networks of Superheroes The Atlantic Online, May 27, 2011.

Gaussian Genealogy: Math Masters Trace Their Intellectual Lineage Wired Magazine, June 2011.

Streaks, from Joltin’ Joe to Mutual Fund Managers Harvard Business Review, February 21, 2011.

The Copernican Principle The Edge Annual Question, January 15, 2011.

2011 – The year you weren’t expecting: A calendar of the obscure and surprising in the year to come. Boston Globe, January 2, 2011: K1, Ideas.

2011 preview: Million-dollar mathematics problem . New Scientist, December 25, 2010/January 1, 2011. (with Rachel Courtland).

2011 preview: Expect Earth’s twin planet. New Scientist, December 25, 2010/January 1, 2011. (with Rachel Courtland).

2011 preview: No ‘magic’ element just yet. New Scientist, December 25, 2010/January 1, 2011. (with Rachel Courtland).

2011 preview: Peak internet comes into view. New Scientist, December 25, 2010/January 1, 2011. (with Rachel Courtland).

Mutated Manuscripts: The Evolution of Genes and Texts. The Atlantic Online, November 16, 2010.

The pay is $8.57 million an hour, but bulls are involved. Recent highlights from the Ideas blog. Boston Globe, October 24, 2010: K3, Ideas.

If ‘shark bear’ is the answer, what was the question? Recent highlights from the Ideas blog. Boston Globe, October 17, 2010: K3, Ideas.

The me-sized universe: Some parts of the cosmos are right within our grasp. Boston Globe, September 19, 2010: K1, Ideas.

Hard to find: Why it’s increasingly difficult to make discoveries – and other insights from the science of science. Boston Globe, July 18, 2010: C1, Ideas.

Warning: Your reality is out of date: Introducing the mesofact. Boston Globe, February 28, 2010: C3, Ideas.

League of nations: Bored with football stats? Introducing fantasy geopolitics. Boston Globe, November 15, 2009: K10, Ideas.

Naming the sky: The true story of one man’s quest to give George Plimpton a permanent presence in orbit. Boston Globe, September 27, 2009: K1, Ideas.

The mysterious equilibrium of zombies: and other things mathematicians see at the movies. Boston Globe, September 6, 2009: C3, Ideas. (plus supplement).

Start the clock: A modest proposal for improving football: the ‘time-in’. Boston Globe, August 16, 2009: C2, Ideas.

What to do if your child has superpowers: A FAQ for concerned parents. Boston Globe, June 21, 2009: C2, Ideas.

A brief inquiry into the nature of sports fandom: Why the home team doesn’t deserve your loyalty. Boston Globe, March 22, 2009: K10, Ideas. (this is tongue-in-cheek)

The Arbesman Limit: How to be famous in a few easy steps. Boston Globe, February 8, 2009: L10, Ideas.

Anatomy of a Spring Break. Boston Globe, January 25, 2009: C10, Ideas.

A Journey to Baseball’s Alternate Universe. New York Times, March 30, 2008: WK12 (with Steven Strogatz).

How to Get Your Own Scientific Eponym, and Introducing the Arbesman Limit, Science Creative Quarterly, Issue 3.

Human Anatomy Terms That Sound Like Things You Would Go See on a Vacation, Science Creative Quarterly, Issue 3.