Among other juicy tidbits, Ed reveals that he once worked in research science but gave it up for writing. We can’t help but be glad that he did!
Starting out easy: What’s your name?
Ed Yong. I have no pseudonym and automatically incline towards people who write and post under their own names. Ed stands for Edmund, which apparently means “wealthy protector,” and I have a Chinese name that roughly translates to “river of prosperity.” In the light of my attempted careers in science/journalism/writing, both of those meanings seem like heavily ironic jokes.
(More below the fold…)
What do you do when you’re not blogging?
By day, I work in the Health Information team of Cancer Research UK, checking up on the latest epidemiological evidence on cancer prevention and translating it into nice, friendly information for the general public. By night, I don the guise of a freelance science writer and chip in the occasional article to Nature, New Scientist and others. Basically, I spend the vast majority of my day writing.
What is your blog called?
Not Exactly Rocket Science
What’s up with that name?
It reflects the ethos of the blog, which is that science can be complicated but it should never have to be impenetrably so. It’s not exactly ro… you get the picture. My position is that new discoveries can be explained in a way that’s fun and interesting to anyone, regardless of their scientific background.
How long have you been blogging, anyway?
I wrote my first post on August 13, 2006. It seems recent but I feel like I’ve been doing it for-EVER. I’m near writing my 200th proper article, which is great because I’m actually really bad at keeping going with things like this.
Where do you live?
I live in London. No, not the bit in the middle with Big Ben, St Paul’s and the West End. The much larger bit that encircles it and is some distance from the centre by public transport, but still inexplicably refers to itself as ‘London’ and costs an arm and a spleen to live in.
Would you describe yourself as a working scientist?
Yes, but only in a completely false sort of way. I had a shot at research several years ago and frankly, I was rubbish at it. The ways in which I sucked were numerous and terrifying to behold, and I actually feel much more involved in science now that I’m not working in it.
Any education experiences or degrees you’d like to mention?
I got an MPhil out of the attempt at research and the best use that it’s ever been to me is to provide three large books that prop up my monitor. I nabbed three consecutive runner-up prizes in the Daily Telegraph’s Science Writer award before finally winning the thing last year. That was awesome. It meant that people started noticing me and accepting freelance pitches and it meant that I got to spend three hours having lunch with David Attenborough, Philip Campbell (editor of Nature), Richard Fortey and a few other celebs.
What are your main academic interests, in or out of your field?
I guess my “field” is cancer but I’m interested in most things. I post about animal biology, psychology, neuroscience, medical sciences, cancer, palaeontology, evolutionary biology, genetics, ecology and essentially anything that I think is cool and I can understand.
Last book you read?
I rotate between different books so the last few have included: Our Dumb World (the Onion’s atlas), Unweaving the Rainbow by Richard Dawkins and the Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall. The latter was surprisingly excellent for a book in which the protagonist must outrun a conceptual shark.
What is your idea of a perfect day?
Most of the best days of my life have all been deceptively simple ones. Happiness to me is finding contentment in the mundane. Except for my wedding, which was far from simple, entirely perfect, but non-duplicable.
What’s your greatest habitual annoyance?
Practitioners of bureaucromancy; noisy people and noisy technology on public transport, bookshops and anywhere where you might want to (a) read or (b) have a nap; arrogant people, people who take themselves too seriously, and especially arrogant people who take themselves too seriously; pseudoscience and poor science journalism; the unfeasibly high ratio of competing priorities to available time.
Who are your favorite heroes of fiction?
Athos & co, Rorschach, Optimus Prime, Jack Sparrow, Oskar Schell, Calliope Stephanides, MacGyver, Eddie Coffin, Spider-Man, Josef Kavalier, Mitchell Hundred, Gandalf, Spike from BTVS, Jack Bauer, Lorelai Gilmore and Arthur Dent. And pretty much any trickster god from ancient mythology.
Your favorite heroes in real life?
Charles Darwin, who changed the world; David Attenborough, who fuelled my love of science and nature, and then agreed to let me interview him in his home; Bill Bailey, who always makes me laugh; my wife, Alice, who is a constant inspiration.
What’s your most marked characteristic?
A fierce and self-sacrificing loyalty aimed at a select handful of people, and a cynical misanthropy toward everyone else. However, my wife informs me that I am a terrible misanthropist as I have an unfortunate tendency to get along with people. I also fidget uncontrollably, which is probably my main form of exercise.
What would you like to be?
A better, healthier, more thick-skinned, more focused, stronger, faster, more knowledgeable version of me. With, you know, eye beams and wings. Failing that, I’ll settle for being a good husband, a successful writer and not an idiot—in that order.
What’s your fatal flaw?
I am too irritable, and find it difficult to let go of problems. I am vulnerable to the radioactive remains of my home planet, and like vampires, I can be killed by a stake to the heart, beheading and being set on fire. As this interview indicates, I am unable to give a one-item answer to personal questions that clearly ask for one.