Yes, it’s true, Culture Dish has found a new (and improved) home. After a long blogging hiatus while I finished writing my book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (see below for details), I’m now packing up shop and moving here to ScienceBlogs (you can subscribe via RSS here, or get Culture Dish updates delivered to your email inbox by clicking here). As a welcome to readers old and new, here’s a bit of a Culture Dish history as an introduction:
I’m a science writer whose forthcoming book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, tells the story of the amazing HeLa cell line and the woman it came from: In 1951, doctors took a small tissue sample from an African American woman named Henrietta Lacks without her knowledge or consent. A scientist put that sample into a test tube, and though Henrietta died a few months later, her cells — known worldwide as HeLa — are still alive today. They became the first immortal human cell line ever grown in culture and one of the most important tools in medicine: They were used to test the polio vaccine and sent up in early space missions to see what would happen to human cells in zero gravity. Research on HeLa helped uncover the secrets of cancer, viruses, and the affects of the atom bomb; it helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, stem cell research and gene mapping. Today, HeLa is still bought and sold by the billions and is the most widely used cell line in labs worldwide.
Henrietta’s cells did wonders for science, but also had dramatic and troubling consequences for her children and husband – a tobacco farmer with a third grade education who struggled to afford housing and healthcare, and didn’t learn about the cells until 25 years after Henrietta’s death. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks traces the history of cell culture and the ethical debate surrounding research on human biological materials through the story of the HeLa cell line – the incredible science they inspired, the researchers who made it possible, the woman those cells came from, and the collision between science and her family. (More info and some related articles here.)
I will be blogging quite a bit about that story and the book as it heads through the production process. Because of my HeLa obsession, I also tend to I blog about all things relating to tissues, bodies, bioethics, and their histories, including the many and strange things people do with human tissues, and questions about who owns (and can profit from) human bodies and their parts. This leads to posts about anything from Tsunami Victims Selling Kidneys to Congressional Investigations Into Researchers Profitting Off Human Tissues Without Consent, and much more.
I blog about whatever catches my attention, which makes Culture Dish hard to categorize (though the tagline “Science, Writing, and Life” pretty much covers it). Generally speaking, I post about science and ethics (like the use of DNA for racial profiling, and questionable studies of fake blood), as well as science writing, the ethics of science book reviewing, and anything I stumble on related to the history of science.
Before becoming a science writer, I worked for ten years as a veterinary technician (some of those years were in general practices, others in an emergency rooms and a veterinary morgue). Because of this, I tend to post about animals. This includes many serious topics, as well as the generally hilarious, and the and unfathomable.
Interestingly, two of my most widely read Culture Dish posts are these old ones: Scientists Finally Quell My Quicksand Phobia, and How Science Finally Vindicated My Hate of Showering. Go figure. I take great pleasure in research that’s bizarre, but not bogus. I worked at the bench in a neurology lab and was trained in basic research science, perhaps because of that, I often find myself pointing out when science is bogus (like this). I do the same with bogus science headlines like this and this, and bogus science products.
Because my magazine writing is sometimes about things that are, well, odd — like surgery for pet goldfish, Spray on Condoms, the science of Dancing Birds, Toxoplasmosis making people hoard cats, why yawns are contagious, and the mathematical equation for the perfect human ass — one of the fact checkers at the New York Times Magazine calls me the Queen of Science Quirk (a tough title to live up to).
But I write about lots of serious stuff too. And I often use Culture Dish as a place to post follow-ups about articles I write, including photos, additional information from interviews, and material that didn’t make it into the final stories because of space, as well as general news updates related to the stories. So stay tuned … I have a story coming out in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine that will be featured on NPR’s Day-to-Day later this week (will post specific info when I have it). I’ll be posting more about it here once it’s out.
Update: I’ve posted my latest New York Times Magazine story about the use of guide miniature horses, assistance monkeys and ducks, as well as lots of story follow up and other things. You can read all current Culture Dish posts here.