Only Human

A Blog by

Latest Posts

This Is a Goodbye Post

Some bittersweet news: This is the last installment of Only Human. After two stimulating and fun years blogging at Phenomena, I’m starting a new job: building an investigative science desk for BuzzFeed News. When I launched this blog I intended to write, as I put it in my first post, “stories about people — what we’re made of, what […]…

Why Do We See the Man in the Moon?

Take a look at the slideshow above. The photos depict, in order: tower binoculars, a tank tread, tree bark, headphones, a tray table, a toilet, eggs, and more tree bark. Yet I perceived every one of them as a face, and I bet you did, too. That’s because, as I wrote about a few weeks […]…

The Power of a Press Release

In 2011, Petroc Sumner of Cardiff University and his colleagues published a brain imaging study with a provocative result: Healthy men who have low levels of a certain chemical in a specific area of their brains tend to get high scores on tests of impulsivity. When the paper came out, thousands of people across England were […]…

Category Fail

I’ve written a lot of stories about autism research, and I’d say one of the biggest scientific developments in the past few years was the creation of ‘autistic’ mice. Researchers first found many, many genes associated with autism in people, and then created dozens of mouse models that carry one or more of those same genetic […]…

“Malformed” Is the Best Brain Book I Read This Year (and Maybe Ever)…

Of all the glossy photo books to showcase on your coffee table, your first choice might not be one of decaying human brains. But it should be, so long as that book is “Malformed.” The first few pages give a sense of what you’re in for: hauntingly beautiful photographs of brains (see slideshow above). One […]…

Personhood Week: Why We’re So Obsessed with Persons

It’s Personhood Week here on Only Human. To recap the week: Monday’s post was about conception, and Tuesday’s about the age of majority. Wednesday’s tackled DNA and dead bodies, and yesterday I took yet another opportunity to opine about the glories of pet-keeping. Today’s installment asks why we’re so fixated on pinning down the squishy […]…

Personhood Week: People and Their Pets

It’s Personhood Week here on Only Human. Today’s installment is about people and our fur babies. Monday’s post was about conception, Tuesday’s about the age of majority, and yesterday’s about identifying dead bodies. Tomorrow’s post, the last in the series, goes to neuroscientists who argue that “personhood” is a convenient, if illusory construction of the […]…

Personhood Week: When Dead Bodies Become Dead People

It’s Personhood Week here on Only Human. Today’s installment is about what it means to give a name to a dead body. Monday’s post was about conception, and yesterday’s about the age of majority. Tomorrow goes to non-human animals, and Friday to neuroscientists who argue that “personhood” is a convenient, if illusory construction of the human […]…

Personhood Week: Do Kids Count?

It’s Personhood Week here on Only Human. Today’s installment is about young people: When do they get autonomy? When do their decisions count? Yesterday’s post was about conception, and tomorrow’s will be about the identification of dead bodies. Thursday goes to non-human animals, and Friday to neuroscientists who argue that “personhood” is a convenient, if illusory construction […]…

Personhood Week: Conception Is a Process

Earlier this month voters in two U.S. States, Colorado and North Dakota, considered new laws that would bolster the legal rights of a fetus before birth. Neither of these ballot initiatives passed, but they’re part of a “personhood movement” that’s been gaining notoriety among pro-life advocates since about 2008. Reading about this movement in the press […]…

The Scary, Synthetic, and All-Too-Secret Ingredients of Dietary Supplements…

Pieter Cohen, an internist in Massachusetts, got interested in dietary supplements several years ago, when some of his patients came to see him with unexplained — and serious — symptoms. Some went to the hospital with chest pain, or even kidney failure. Others lost their jobs because of positive drug tests. Eventually, after getting them […]…

When Grief Is Traumatic

As Vicki looked at her son in his hospital bed, she didn’t believe he was close to death. He was still young, at 33. It had been a bad car accident, yes, but he was still strong. To an outsider, the patient must have looked tragic — unconscious and breathing through a ventilator. But to […]…

Why Do Obese Women Earn Less Than Thin Women (and Obese Men)?…

For more than two decades, economists have noticed that obesity has a, well, weighty impact on income, particularly for women. A well-known 2004 study, for example, found that a 65-pound increase in a woman’s weight is associated with a 9-percent drop in wages — an obesity penalty equivalent to about three years of work experience. “But economists have […]…

Chantix, Suicide, and the Point of Prescription Drug Warnings…

Quick poll: Think back to the last time you bought a prescription medication. Did you read any of the information about the drug printed on the papers inside the box? And if you did read it, did that stop you from taking the drug? I can’t recall a time when I read any of that fine […]…

New Microscope Puts the Life Back in Biology (with Videos!)

Life moves. Or more precisely, as neuroscientist Eric Betzig and his colleagues put it in today’s issue of Science: “Every living thing is a complex thermodynamic pocket of reduced entropy through which matter and energy flow continuously.” Betzig’s name may sound familiar. Two weeks ago he won the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for developing […]…