Want to be Influential? Try Harder!

I remember the first time I was called “Influential Science Blogger.” I don’t remember who said it, but it was during the First Framing Flaming Flurry. Then, Shanai Matteson over at the Bell Museum called me an “Influential Science Blogger.” That was cool. Then some other people did it.

Now, that is how I introduce myself.

“Hi there. Greg Laden. Influential Science Blogger.”

(“Wow, what an asshole.” … Usually spoken out the corner of the mouth to anyone standing nearby.)luentioal

Well, I don’t care. Because now, I’ve been dubbed truly influential by influential US News and World Report Editor and Writer, Ben Harder.

I remember Ben when he was just a young Whipper Snapper. I don’t recall if he had the plan at that time to go into journalism, when he was one of the students in my Lab Section for Science B 29 “Something about Human Evolution” a.k.a. “Sex in the Afternoon.” That must have been in the late 1980s or so. I remember Ben from that course and another context well enough to recall that he was one of the Let’s Go kids (a friend of mine at the time was Let’s Go’s editor). That’s a Harvard thing where you get to go on a really cool trip for free (that’s the good news) but you have to stay in a string of crappy places and then write about them on a deadline (that’s the bad news) for the Let’s Go travel guide series. At least, that is my recollection (Ben can sign on and correct me if I’ve got that confused.)

I also very clearly and distinctly remember Ben’s handwriting, especially when he wrote his own name on the top of a quiz, next to which I invariably placed a big red “10″ (out of 10) each week. And those were hard problem sets.

Anyway, Ben has started a great blog over at US News & World Reports, called, you guessed it, “Thinking Harder.” This is a very new blog promising to address a range of sciences.


  1. #1 Abel Pharmboy
    November 16, 2007

    Hey, you’ve gotta appreciate when the kids remember us. I have begun to enjoy the art of living vicariously through the accomplishment of my trainees.

    Congrats to you…and to Ben!

  2. #2 Ben Harder
    November 17, 2007

    Thanks for the encouragement, Greg–then and now. Your recollections are spot-on, except perhaps for the timing. I was an embarrassingly young whippersnapper in the late 80s.

    But by the mid-90s, I couldn’t think of anything cooler than studying biological anthropology. And though I ultimately went into science writing rather than science itself, I did so in part because my work gives me an excuse–a mandate, in fact–to call some of the world’s brightest people and basically ask them for personalized lectures. Quite a perk, I gotta say.

    Anyway, when we met, I quite enjoyed studying “Sex.” The lab discussions were, er, pregnant with ideas, and the course gave me all sorts of academic plans that I never carried through on: First, I wanted to do field work in Southeast Asia and correlate the locals’ genetic haplotypes to the elevation where they were born. (I’d heard that, over the centuries, successive waves of invaders had pushed earlier indigenous peoples higher and higher into the mountains–and I figured I might find a signature of that history in people’s genes.) That was part of the reason I got so excited when Let’s Go sent me to Laos and Vietnam.

    Then I wanted to test whether the advent of wheat agriculture had introduced selection pressure that drove people in Asia Minor and southeastern Europe to evolve a sort of genetic resistance to celiac disease. Northwestern Europeans, who were relatively late to the grain-growing game, have higher prevalences of certain HLA types linked to celiac disease, and I bet it’s because they haven’t been nutritionally dependent on gluten for nearly as long. (To my knowledge, this is still an open question… but I’d welcome any updates to the contrary.) I remember trekking to the Harvard Medical School library to locate some obscure genetic study in a dust-gathering copy of The Lancet. I was hooked. Of Sex, a science journalist was born.

    Incidentally, Greg, I don’t think my handwriting has changed at all. I still can’t do cursive. Good thing I only have to type these days.