The Loom

Old and New: An Introduction

Greetings. As I bring in my html luggage and unpack, let me stop for a moment to introduce myself and this blog.

I’m a science writer. I started out at Discover, where I ended up as a senior editor before heading out into the freelance world in 1999. Since then I’ve written for a number of magazines, and over the last couple years I’ve been writing pretty regularly for the Science Times section of the New York Times.

I also write books, which I’ve placed in the left column for those who are interested. I’m now trying to crank through the sixth, a biography of Escherichia coli (at least when I’m not bogged down in the mysteries of Moveable Type).

My interests may seem scatter-shot. I’ve written about lampreys, aspens, viruses, whales with legs, musical hallucinations, synthetic life, leeches, mole brains, tapeworms, snake venom, chimpanzees, chromosomes, malaria, jellyfish, colic, castrating bacteria, penguin waddling, slime molds, and brain-controlled robots. Among other things. I may well have an undiagnosed case of ADD, but I think that this random walk is not entirely random. What joins these subjects together is a fascination with life–four billion years of unimaginable biological luxury.

That fascination propels this blog as well. I started it about two and half years ago as a way to write about stuff I came across that didn’t seem right for pitching to editors but which I couldn’t stop thinking about. It’s ballooned into a pretty substantial slice of my time now. It’s not a great way to pay the bills, but it’s been gratifying to get a couple of honors for my efforts. For most of the Loom’s existence, it’s been hosted by the fine site, Corante. I recommend it to all readers for a panoply of interesting blogs, mostly on technology. I’m now looking forward to the virtual company of the scienceblog bloggers, many of whom I’ve been reading for some time now.

Here’s a rough anatomy of my blogging, with some examples I offer for your enjoyment:

1. Essays. Sometimes the only way to really make sense of a subject is to delve deep. I like to take some aspect of nature and look at how recent research has given us a deeper understanding of it. Some of my favorite examples include

Eyes, Part One: Opening Up the Russian Doll and Eyes, Part Two: Fleas, Fish, and the Careful Art of Deconstruction

The Wisdom of Parasites (don’t miss the follow-up video–unsuitable for young cockroaches).

Of Stem Cells and Neanderthals

The Whale and the Antibody

My Darwinian Daughters

Hamilton’s Fall (an essay on autumn leaves, followed up here).

2. Added Value. Every couple weeks or so I have a new article published in a paper or magazine. I point blog readers to new pieces (either on the publication web site, or at my own article archive). These posts also give me a chance to expand a little–to mention something that got cut for space, to tie the article into some bigger picture.

The Chromosome Shuffle

Doctor Venom

An iPod in Your Head

New Life for Old. This a post about an article I wrote for Discover on biologist Jack Szostak, who is trying to reproduce what many scientists believe was the first life form on Earth. Scientists don’t stop their research when we science writers publish our articles (curses!), but at least on a blog it’s possible to addd a follow-up.

3. A Personal Science News Wire. I like to keep up with certain lines of research. For some reason the tiny hominid Homo floresiensis, a k a the Hobbit, has been obsessing me. Here’s the archive.

4. Book and Lecture News. I talk pretty regularly around the country. Tonight, for instance, I’m talking at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts). I like to give fair warning, so people can plan to come to my talks or clear out of town as they see fit.

When a book is coming down the pike, I also like to give a heads up, and to discuss some of the stuff in it. Right now, the next thing coming in on the radar is the fall 2006 reissue of my book, Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea, with a new introduction.

5. When Science and Politics Collide. The job of a science writer is chiefly to explain science–to describe the history of scientific research, to lay out important debates, to explore the potential impact of new discoveries. Those are the subjects I generally stick with, and as a result I may sometimes seem a bit out of place in a blogosphere dominated by fierce politics. On the other hand, a science writer should not shrink from pointing out misinformation and other clear abuses of science. And the science I’m most interested in these days–evolution–has been mightily abused in recent years.

Florida, Where The Living Is Contradictory

A Question for the President

The Big Fact-Check: Thoughts on the Day After Dover

“Blinding New Evidence!”

That’s all for now. I am still tinkering with the site, trying to organize its features and looking for bad links and other glitches. Leave any complaints or requests in the comments, or email me at blog at carlzimmer dot com.

When I get back home Sunday, I’m sure there will be a world of new things to blog about. There always is.


  1. #1 pough
    June 9, 2006

    Woo hoo! All my favourite blogs are coming together! It looks there a bunch have been added lately. I think you might have been the last regularly-read blog that was still elsewhere.

  2. #2 RPM
    June 9, 2006

    Welcome on board. May I suggest a title for your (auto)biography: Carl Zimmer: My Life as a Markov Chain

  3. #3 Peter Lund
    June 9, 2006


    Yours was the only non-computer blog I was missing on 🙂

  4. #4 joseph duemer
    June 11, 2006

    Congratulations. You really need to put a redirect at your old address, though. The page takes forever to load & is full of error messages. A lot of people are going to click their bookmark for the Loom & think your page has been discontinued. Your picture & bio are there, along with a bunch of online casino ads.

    I’m not crazy about the banner ad at the top of the scienceblogs page, by the way.

  5. #5 JoseAngel
    June 11, 2006

    We lurkers are moving too.

  6. #6 Stephen Uitti
    June 12, 2006

    So are the archives coming over eventually? I still pass out links to the brain surgery on cochroach article. Maybe i just like to gross people out.

  7. #7 Carl Zimmer
    June 12, 2006


    is the new address for the brain surgery article.

    All the archives should be here now.

  8. #8 Patrick
    June 15, 2006

    Mr. Zimmer, I would just like to say that I enjoy your writing very much. Parasite Rex creeped the hell out of me, and I enjoyed At The Water’s Edge immensely. (It helps that the paperback edition of it that I have has a really cute axolotl on the front. I love that little guy.)

  9. #9 Jenny
    June 15, 2006

    Please don’t despair about the low direct monetary return on your blogging efforts. My finding your blog resulted in my assigning one of your texts for an interdisciplinary studies course, so the blog does indirectly advance your revenue stream.

    Thanks for your excellent writing and sharing the joy of discovery.

  10. #10 paulm
    July 7, 2006

    I don’t know what happened to sending out news of this move. I had subscribed to the old blog but the last update I received was for the ‘little girls with sharp stones’ article. Having heard nothing more for a couple of weeks I tried logging onto the old site. The URL now takes be to the reference to the Loom on the Corante home page (which hasn’t been removed)and I couldn’t get any further until today, when I was taken to your farewell article. I emailed admin at Corante twice and got no reply! Anyway Its lovely to know that the loom is till here, in fact I’ve got a lovley weekend in prospect catching up on a month’s worth of posts!

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