Debunking myths on genetics and DNA

Monday, October 17, 2011

A planet of viruses: an interview with award-winning biology writer Carl Zimmer

My guest today is such an eminent figure in the field of science writing that, besides being highly honored by his presence here, I don't know where to begin to introduce him. Carl Zimmer is the contributing editor and columnist of Discover Magazine, and the author of numerous popular science books like A Planet of Viruses, Parasite Rex, Evolution: the Triumph of an Idea, and many more. He travels all over the country giving lectures and promoting science, and his articles have appeared in the New York Times, National Geographic, Scientific American, and many, many others.

EEG: Carl, thank you so much for being here, especially knowing how busy you are with all your public engagements. When and how did you decide to become a science writer?

CZ: I always was writing in school. After college, I got a job at Discover, just in the hopes of getting into journalism somehow. After a while, I realized that it was an excellent fit for the kinds of things that interested me. So I can't say I actually decided!

EEG: What fascinates you the most about science and biology in particular?

CZ: There is always a surprise. I've been writing about science now for 20 years--I've written articles and books--and yet every week there's something that makes me widen my eyes.

EEG: You wrote a book on evolution and you give public lectures on evolution. What do you make of the fact that Darwin's ideas are still debated today? I don't mean just from a religious point of view, but even among scientist themselves (see, for example, the debate that Lynn Margulis started about symbiosis...)

CZ: Every science has its debates. The debates within evolution are so interesting to the public. It's an indication of our fascination with our origins, and with the natural world

EEG: I couldn't agree more. 152 years after the publication of the Origin of Species, and here we are still debating and arguing over it. It's the truly revolutionary ideas that generate this kind of debates. And, since we're at it, I'd like to mention not only Darwin, but also Lamarck, whose work has been overlooked for years until recently, when new insights into epigenetics proved that his views, too, captured a fundamental aspect of evolution.

Thanks so much, Carl, for stopping by to answer my questions.

Check out Carl's award winning blog, The Loom, on Discover Magazine, to find out more about his books and his fantastic stories around the world of science.

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