The Organ Detective: A Career Spent Uncovering a Hidden Global Market in Human Flesh

"When she first heard about the organ thieves, the anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes was doing fieldwork in northeastern Brazil. It was 1987, and a rumor circulating around the shantytown of Alto do Cruzeiro, overlooking the town of Timbaúba, in a sugarcane farming region of Pernambuco, told of foreigners who traveled the dirt roads in yellow vans, looking for unattended children to snatch up and kill for their transplantable organs. Later, it was said, the children’s bodies would turn up in roadside ditches or in hospital dumpsters."

July, 2014. Originally appeared in Pacific Standard Magazine. 

Why Americans Are the Weirdest People in the World

"In the summer of 1995, a young graduate student in anthropology at UCLA named Joe Henrich traveled to Peru to carry out some fieldwork among the Machiguenga, an indigenous people who live north of Machu Picchu in the Amazon basin. The Machiguenga had traditionally been horticulturalists who lived in single-family, thatch-roofed houses in small hamlets composed of clusters of extended families. For sustenance, they relied on local game and produce from small-scale farming. They shared with their kin but rarely traded with outside groups."

February, 2013. Originally appeared in Pacific Standard Magazine. 

Mental Downturn: Identifying the Symptoms of Economic Uncertainty

"Almost as soon as the economic meltdown began, the ominous warnings started. 'Suicides: Watching for a Recession Spike,' read a February 2009 headline in Time magazine. Around the same time, USA Today reported, 'Signs abound that the battered economy is causing serious damage to the mental health and family lives of a growing number of Americans … Nearly half of Americans said they were more stressed than a year ago, and about one-third rated their stress level as extreme in surveys [conducted by] the American Psychological Association.'"

January, 2010. Originally appeared in Wired. 


Shot Spotter

"On a chilly January evening, police officer Abdullah Dadgar is giving his new partner a tour of Oakland's notorious east side. 'There was a shooting in front of that liquor store, guys firing AK-47s,' he says, steering his squad car past dilapidated buildings and sidewalks strewn with refuse."

March, 2007. Originally appeared in Wired. 

Ward Connerly Won the Battle -- Now He's Facing the War

"Sacramento businessman and university of California regent Ward Connerly professes amazement at the attacks and public scrutiny he has received for successfully campaigning -- first at the University of California and then statewide with last year's passage of Proposition 209 -- to eliminate racial preferences. He's been called a 'houseboy' and a 'paid assassin.' And at a rally this summer protesting the implementation of 209, Jesse Jackson accused him of promoting 'ethnic cleansing.'"

November, 1997. Originally appeared in Mother Jones. 

The Problem With Psychiatry, the ‘DSM,’ and the Way We Study Mental Illness

"Imagine for a moment that the American Psychiatric Association was about to compile a new edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. But instead of 2013, imagine, just for fun, that the year is 1880."

June, 2013. Originally appeared in Pacific Standard Magazine. 

The Americanization of Mental Illness

"Americans, particularly if they are of a certain leftward-leaning, college-educated type, worry about our country’s blunders into other cultures. In some circles, it is easy to make friends with a rousing rant about the McDonald’s near Tiananmen Square, the Nike factory in Malaysia or the latest blowback from our political or military interventions abroad. For all our self-recrimination, however, we may have yet to face one of the most remarkable effects of American-led globalization. We have for many years been busily engaged in a grand project of Americanizing the world’s understanding of mental health and illness. We may indeed be far along in homogenizing the way the world goes mad."

January, 2010. Originally appeared in The New York Times. 

DNA Is Not Destiny: The New Science of Epigenetics

"Back in 2000, Randy Jirtle, a professor of radiation oncology at Duke University, and his postdoctoral student Robert Waterland designed a groundbreaking genetic experiment that was simplicity itself. They started with pairs of fat yellow mice known to scientists as agouti mice, so called because they carry a particular gene—the agouti gene—that in addition to making the rodents ravenous and yellow renders them prone to cancer and diabetes. Jirtle and Waterland set about to see if they could change the unfortunate genetic legacy of these little creatures."

November, 2006. Originally appeared in Discover Magazine. 

In My Tribe

"You may be like me: between the ages of 25 and 39, single, a college-educated city dweller. If so, you may have also had the unpleasant experience of discovering that you have been identified (by the U.S. Census Bureau, no less) as one of the fastest-growing groups in America -- the 'never marrieds.' In less than 30 years, the number of never-marrieds has more than doubled, apparently pushing back the median age of marriage to the oldest it has been in our country's history -- about 25 years for women and 27 for men."

October, 2001. Originally appeared in The New York Times.

The Player

"Nolan Bushnell is ready to sit for an interview, but I've got a better idea: Let's skip the chitchat and go straight to the game console. After all, Bushnell is a videogame legend, inventor of the pioneering digital diversion Pong and founder of Atari, the original electronic entertainment powerhouse. He has created a new title, and for days his public relations rep - and daughter - Alissa Bushnell has been telling me, 'Just wait. This one is really fun.' The chance to try out King Pong's latest creation with the man himself is like getting to fire a few rockets with Wernher von Braun or tee off on a Jack Nicklaus Signature course with the Golden Bear, and I'm itching to get started. Bushnell shrugs and says, 'Let's go.'"

October, 2005. Originally appeared in Wired. 

The Germ Theory of Democracy, Dictatorship, and All Your Most Cherished Beliefs

"One morning last fall, the evolutionary biologist Randy Thornhill was standing with me in front of the gorilla enclosure at the Albuquerque zoo. He was explaining a new theory about the origins of human culture when Mashudu, a 10-year-old western lowland gorilla, decided to help illustrate a point. In a very deliberate way, Mashudu sauntered over to the deep cement ravine at the front of his enclosure, perched his rear end over the edge, and did his morning business."

March, 2014. Originally appeared in Pacific Standard Magazine. 

Ten Things You Should Know Before Going on The Daily Show

"1. Don't expect any warm up. Jon Stewart comes into the green room before the show and chats with you for about 3 minutes. The conversation in my case focused exclusively on the contents of my Daily Show gift bag."

February, 2010. Originally appeared on Gawker. 

Suffering Differently 

"After the 2004 tsunami in Asia, many mental-health experts agreed that a 'second tsunami' of mental illness in the form of post-traumatic stress disorder would strike the region. Like doctors rushing to the outbreak of an epidemic, American counselors and trauma researchers soon arrived on the scene hoping to pass on useful knowledge about PTSD. A few years on, however, their efforts have raised a troublesome question: Were they bringing the wrong treatment to the wrong people?"

August, 2007. Originally appeared in The New York Times. 

Why Do People Behave Nicely?

"On the television show The Bachelor, Rachel lies to her fellow contestants about last night's date. Over on The Amazing Race, Jonathan shoves his wife after she slows them down en route to the finish line. On The Apprentice, Maria attacks Wes, then Donald Trump fires them both."

December, 2005. Originally appeared in Discover Magazine. 

Vertigo Rising

"I'll tell you right up front: Before my first lesson I had doubts that 'piloting' was the right verb to describe flying a balloon. Sure, I knew you could make the thing go up and down—but the word 'piloting' implies control over a craft on more than one axis of our three-dimensional world. I suspected 'ballasting' might be more appropriate, as in 'He did a great job ballasting that balloon over the mountain.'"

September, 2001. Originally appeared in Outside Magazine. 

Doors of Memory

"'Welcome to Texas tornado weather,' says Sam Spear, as we drive the short distance between his house and his daughter's. All around us the sky is black with thunderheads, but here on this wide suburban street the sun shines and the hot air doesn't move. A few neighbors have come out of their homes to gaze up uneasily at this stalemate between the elements. I look at Sam, a hardy well-scrubbed man in his sixties, to see whether he is serious about the possibility of a tornado, but his attention has shifted. He points to a house that looks like every other house in the neighborhood, with a manicured lawn and a child's bicycle sprawled in the driveway."

February, 1993. Originally appeared in Mother Jones.