Saturday, December 31, 2016

My final article for 2016

Welcome to the end of the year. Phew. We finally got here. What a long, strange trip it's been, huh?

Anyway, I only published one article this week, and it was a look back at ten of my previous articles. How meta, right? Here it is:

The Top 10 Extinction Countdown Articles of 2016

And that brings 2016 to a wrap. See you in the New Year!

Monday, December 26, 2016

Conservation's best and worst of 2016 (plus more)

Hey folks, happy Monday after Christmas. I'm probably heads-down already today (and the rest of this week) working on a top-secret project for early 2017, but meanwhile, the last of my articles for 2016 continue to eke their way out. Want to read the latest? Of course you do.

I'll start with two big "Extinction Countdown" articles for Scientific American, looking back at the year that was. (Fair warning, the second piece is pretty darn bleak.)

The Best Wildlife Conservation Stories of 2016

The Worst Wildlife Conservation Stories of 2016

Next up, my latest for Hakai magazine, on the subject of beach restoration:

Reinforce and Rebuild

Finally this week, here's my latest tech careers article for IEEE-USA InSight:

The Art & Science of Poster Sessions

That's it for this week -- and pretty close to the end for 2016. I know I have at least one more article pending before December 31, so follow me on Twitter for the headline(s) as it (they) happen(s), or come on back here in a few days for another list.

Happy holidays!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Giraffes, Millennials and eBikes

Wow, December sure is motoring along. Like, I'm sure, a lot of you, the coming two weeks are all about tying up the last business of the year. Meanwhile, though, there sure are still a lot of my articles coming down the pike. Last week saw the publication of six new articles by me, covering a pretty broad range of topics.

Let's start the list with my last two articles for TakePart, which, sadly, stopped publishing last week. I wrote nearly 300 articles for TakePart over the past three years, including more than a few that I don't think anyone else would have let me write. It's a shame to see them go, but I'm happy to go out with two good stories, including one set here in Portland.

EPA Restricts Use of Pesticides That Are Harming Endangered Species

Brown Goes Green: UPS Tests Electric Bikes for Deliveries in Portland

Next up, two new "Extinction Countdown" articles for Scientific American:

Giraffe's "Silent Extinction" Finally Earns Some Noise

The 301 Mammal Species Most Threatened by Overhunting

Switching gears, here's my latest tech careers feature for IEEE-USA InSight:

Generations: What Can Older and Younger Engineers Learn from Each Other?

And finally, here's a neat business profile piece for American Builders Quarterly:

Culture + Art + Science = Retail Innovation

That's it for this time around. Expect a few more links next Monday!

Monday, December 12, 2016

Whale Snot and 13 Extinctions

Dead birds flapping.
Welcome back, friends. It's time for this week's Monday morning wrap-up of my articles from the previous week. I have an extremely fun, positive story to start you off this time around, followed by a few downers, but ending on a positive note. My writing is a roller coaster of emotions!


Anyway. Let's start with the fun -- my latest for Hakai Magazine -- a story that I followed for a year before it could be told:

How High Schoolers’ Hacks Fixed a Whale Snot-Collecting Drone

Next up, two really depressing stories for Scientific American:

13 Bird Species Declared Extinct

"Crisis" for Mediterranean Sharks

Finally this week, two interesting stories for TakePart, the second of which gets us back into the fun zone!

Cute Critters Score Cash From Donors, Ugly Animals Not So Much

Don’t Drain the Swamp, #ReignTheSwamp

That's it for this week! Geez, only a few more of these Monday reports before the end of the year. That mean it's time to start tallying up my articles for the year and picking my favorites -- a list that will include one of this week's stories! Come on back next Monday for another list, or follow me on Twitter, where I'll share headlines as they go live.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Sharks that Walk and Coral that Dies

Hey folks, happy Monday. December is here and the mad rush toward the end of the year has begun. Maybe that's why I had so many articles appear last week, and why I'm working on so many more.

This week's articles cover a pretty wide range of topics, but they also have some thematic overlaps. A couple of articles address coral ecosystems and the creatures that live in them, while a few more deal with life in the Arctic. There's some parallel between a piece about a day about extinction and an attempt to bring lost species back. Finally, there's a general theme of resiliency in the face of climate change and other threats.

A walking shark. Left, right, left, right...
But enough about themes. Let's get to the articles themselves. I'll start this week's list with my latest "Extinction Countdown" articles for Scientific American:

Another Arctic Species Losing Out as Sea Ice Declines: The Ivory Gull

Walking Sharks at Risk

Next up, three new pieces for TakePart:

A Day to Mark Fallen Species

Gone for 400 Years, Returned Beavers Get Protected Status in Scotland

19 Ways Arctic Climate Change Could Unleash a Global Catastrophe

After that, here's my latest article for Hakai Magazine:

There Is Life on a Dead Coral Reef

And finally this week, here's the third part of my epic trilogy about Einstein and comic books for From the Grapevine. This is half personal essay, half history lesson:

Meet 'E-Man,' the superhero inspired by Albert Einstein

That's it for this time around. Come on back next Monday for another batch of articles. Hey, it's better than hitting the mall for holiday shopping!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Volunteering and Turkeys

Goggle, gobble.
Happy Post-Thanksgiving Monday! This week's headline recap is on the light side, thankfully, because publications slow down during the holidays. That meant just two new articles of mine came out last week -- although I worked on quite a few more. Look for those in the coming weeks, but for now, here are last week's stories.

I'll start with my latest for IEEE-USA InSight:

Engineering for Good: Help Make the World a Better Place by Putting Your Skills to Works as a Volunteer

And here's a short, holiday-themed piece for Extinction Countdown at Scientific American:

Thanksgiving Species Spotlight: Waigeo Brush-Turkey

That's it! I hope you still have some delicious leftovers for lunch today. Enjoy, and come on back next Monday for what will likely be a much longer list.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Two Orange Species (and a whole lot more)

Hello and welcome to another Monday morning link list, showcasing my articles from the previous week. This time around we have four articles for two publishers, one of each has to do with a predominantly orange species.

Here are the first two, for Scientific American:

Tiger Farms Linked to Massive Surge in Illegal Trafficking

New Technology Reveals Hundreds of Bird Species at Risk

And here are the final two, for TakePart:

Palm Oil Kills Orangutans, but Can the Industry Help Save the Great Apes?

Burning Less Coal Means Less Mercury in Your Tuna

This is Thanksgiving week here in the States, so there may not be too many new articles published. On the other hand, I have quite a few in the queue at various publishers, so who knows when they'll all appear. In any case, come on back here next Monday for another list, as long or as short as it may be. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

Elephant Butts and a Whooping Crane Whoops

Happy Monday, dear readers! It's time for another linkfest with all of my previous week's articles. No big theme this time around, just some good stuff.

Let's start with two new articles for TakePart, one of which has to do with endangered species, the other of which covers interesting new technology:

New Zealand Has the Most Seabirds on the Planet, and 90 Percent Are at Risk

You’ve Heard of Self-Driving Cars. Now Here Comes the Self-Driving Scooter

Next up, my latest for Audubon:

The Saga of 16-11, a Star-Crossed Whooping Crane Now In Mating Rehab

Finally, here's yet another elephant-related article for Scientific American:

Asian Elephants Help Seed the Forest

That's it for this time around. I have quite a few other articles already in the queue at  various publishers, and even more beyond that in the works. Follow me on Twitter for links as they happen, or come on back here next Monday for another list!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Voting + Elephants, Bats and Penguins

Courtesy of Air Shepherd
Last week brought a bounty of timely articles, and a few pieces on interesting uses of technology.

The most timely of the bunch was this, my first article for Sierra Magazine, just in time for the 2016 election:

Vote for Biodiversity

Next up, two pieces for Scientific American, one of which is also kind of (but really isn't) about tomorrow's election, while the other was timed for last Monday's Halloween:

How Do You Stop a Marauding Bull Elephant Named Trump? Send in the Drones

Halloween Horrors: The Spectral Vampire Bat

Finally this week, here's a neat new story for TakePart:

Penguin Detectives Wanted

That's it for this time around. Join me next Monday for another list, or follow me on Twitter for headlines as they happen.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Turtle Week

Well here's a rarity: a week with just three new Platt publications. That feels strange, since I think I worked on about 587 other articles throughout the week, including stuff that will see print next week, next month, and probably next year.

Anyway, here are the links to those three articles, two of which have to do with turtles (and the third of which is just cool). The first one was for TakePart while the next two were for Scientific American:

Stopping Louisiana's Turtle Apocalypse

Seeds of Hope after Disease Wipes Out 90 Percent of Rare Turtle Species

What's in the Box? A Long-Lost Species

More next week -- and beyond! Follow me on Twitter for headlines as they happen.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Elephant Feet, Snow Leopards and Elevator Speeches

Another week, another six publications. That's a bit more than usual, but it includes a couple of pieces that were in work for a long time and have now finally seen print.

Speaking of print, this week's list starts with my article from the November print issue of Scientific American, which is an adaptation and expansion of an article I did for them online two months ago:

Elephant Footprints Teem with Life

Sticking with SciAm, here are my two latest "Extinction Countdown" articles (including my second snow leopard article for the month):

The Mangrove Finch: An Extinction in Slow Motion

Snow Leopards Could Lose Two-Thirds of Their Habitat due to Climate Change

Next up, a new wildlife article and a green-tech piece for TakePart:

Forest Conservation Has a New Poster Child: The Gopher Tortoise

Renewable Energy Is About to Get Supersized

Finally, sticking with tech, here's my latest careers article for IEEE-USA InSight. This is technically geared toward engineers, but I think anyone can get something out of it. I know I learned a lot while writing it:

How to Craft a Winning Elevator Speech

That's it for this week. Come on back next Monday for another list!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Shrinking Leopards, Twilight Coral and Two Extinctions

Credit DWNP, Panthera, and Rimba
I love my job -- yes, even though I cover some pretty bleak topics, like the ones you'll find in three out of this week's four articles. I may find myself writing bad news more often than not, but it's an amazing opportunity for me to speak to the people who are doing good in this world to help us understand the threats that we face -- and maybe to turn them around.

That said, let's start with this week's bleakest articles, my latest for PBS's Nature:

Indochinese Leopard’s Range Has Shrunk by more than 94 Percent

And here are two pieces for TakePart, one good and one bad, both important:

Hawaii’s Newly Discovered Deep-Sea Reefs Thrive in a ‘Twilight Zone’

The West Coast’s Largest Estuary Is Being Starved of Water

Finally this week, here's my latest for Scientific American, which combines terrible news with slightly less bad news:

1 Endangered Beetle Species Gets Protected, 2 More Go Extinct

That's it for this time around, but hang on to your hats (or glasses, as the case may be). I have at least six articles already in the queue with my editors pending publication and you should start seeing them as early as today. That's in addition to the brand-new stuff that I will actually start writing today. It's going to be a busy week! I'll post the headlines as they happen on Twitter, so follow along there or come on back here next Monday for another list. Maybe they won't all be quite so bleak!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Crows + Marijuana + Einstein

Welcome to a new week! Here's another batch of articles for your Monday morning eyeballs.

Source: Nobrow Press
Let's start with two positive conservation-themed stories, the first for Audubon, the second for Scientific American:

The Hawaiian Crow Is Ready to Make Its Big Comeback

Great News for Rhinos, Pangolins, Parrots, Sharks and Chambered Nautilus

Next up, an interesting news story for TakePart:

The Marijuana Boom Is Contributing to the Climate Crisis

And finally this week, an interview with a graphic novelist for From the Grapevine:

Einstein gets graphic in new biography

More next Monday -- or follow along on Twitter for headlines as they go live.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Snow Leopards, Biomimicry and a Frog Extinction

Say good-bye, little froggie.
Wow, last week was busy! Five new article publications, plus work on half a dozen more. But let me tell you, the effort was worth it, not just for the chance to tell good, important stories but also for the incredible reaction from all of my readers.

Nothing personified that more than my latest for PBS's Nature, a positive conservation article that went totally viral:

Snow Leopard Conservation Gets Boost from New Tech

This week's articles for Scientific American were far less positive, but they had to be told. I've been following these stories for a while and neither is a happy tale:

The Rabbs' Tree Frog Just Went Extinct

Two Years to Ploughshare Tortoise Extinction?

But let's get happy again with this week's articles for TakePart. The first one might seem like a tough bit of news, but the people working to save the California Condor are doing great work. The second article in this batch is my latest green-tech piece.

The Tiny Threat That’s Killing North America’s Largest Bird

Mimicking Nature to Fight Climate Change

That's it for this time around. Come on by next Monday for another list, or follow me on Twitter for links as they go live.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Koalas, Killers and a Crisis

Ah, Monday, that favorite day of the week when all the caffeine in the world just isn't quite enough.

So let's hold off on the start of this week for a few more minutes while that third cup of coffee starts to work its way through your veins. As far as I'm concerned, it's still last week until your heart starts to beat just a little bit faster and the neurons in your brain start to figure out how to make your vocal chords work once again. While we wait for that to happen, let's take a moment and look at my articles from the week before this dreaded Monday.

I'll start this list with my latest article for PBS's Nature:

Climate Change Could Turn Up Heat on Already Vulnerable Koalas

Moving on from that happy topic, here are two new "Extinction Countdown" articles for Scientific American, both of which ended up being about invasive species:

The World's Worst Invasive Predators are Cats, Rats, Pigs and...Hedgehogs?

The Killer Shrimp Bullies Species into Extinction

Finally this week, here's my latest for TakePart, an important environmental topic that doesn't get nearly enough visibility:

The Conservation Crisis No One Is Talking About: Sand

That's it for this week. Which is good, because all of that caffeine is starting to make you jumpy. You night want to slow down on that stuff a bit. Maybe a nice cup of decaf with lunch, okay?

See ya next Monday (sigh), or follow me on Twitter all week long.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Climate, Crime & Comics

Happy Monday, dear readers! It's time for my weekly roundup of my most recent articles. This time around I have five new pieces for you, all focusing on the three big C's: climate, crime and comics.

Let's start with my latest articles for TakePart. The first features interviews with climate scientist Michael E. Mann and editorial cartoonist Tom Toles. The second is a cool program I that doesn't get nearly enough credit for the good it's done.

A New Weapon in the War Against Climate Change Denial: Laughter

Rural America’s New Cash Crop: Renewable Energy

Next up, here are two new "Extinction Countdown" articles for Scientific American. The first is a crime story you haven't seen anywhere else. The second is a story I've been following for several years now and it's starting to get me a bit frustrated.

Thousands of African Grey Parrots Stolen from the Wild Every Month

Climate-Threatened American Pika Denied Protection--Again

Getting back to the crime angle, here's my profile of World Wrestling Entertainment's top intellectual property attorney, who just loves to fight copyright thieves, for Profile Magazine:

Win Battles Outside the Ring to Protect Trademark and Fans

Finally this week, back to the comics connection. You may recall a piece I did for From the Grapevine a few months back where I tracked some of Albert Einstein's most memorable appearances in comic books. Well, here's the next logical step in that examination:

What did Batman and Einstein have in common?

That's it for this time around. I'm working on all kinds of new stuff, so come on back here next Monday for another link list, or follow me on Twitter for links as they happen.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Giraffes, Woodpeckers and More

Muareen Didde. Creative Commons.
It's Monday again, which means it's time for my weekly link list. Last week was a short week (following Labor Day), so that means we have a short list for you this time around. It includes two "Extinction Countdown" articles for Scientific American (the first of which wrapped up all of the news that happened over the long weekend) and my latest article for Audubon.

Apes, Pandas, Whales and Bears (an Extinction Roundup)

Giraffe Genetics Reveal Four Separate (and Threatened) Species

In Argentina, New Nesting Research Shows How Loggers Could Save Countless Birds

That's it this time around! Come on back next Monday for what is undoubtedly going to be a much longer list.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Slaughtered Elephants, Social Seals and Green Roofs

Good morning, dear readers. It's Labor Day here in the States, which means I shouldn't be working. Don't worry, though, this is just a quick hit to post my weekly list of last week's articles. After that I'll move away from the computer and... oh, who am I kidding? I'll probably do more work.

Well, regardless of how I end up spending the rest of my day, here are this week's articles, starting with some brutal news and some interesting tech, both for TakePart:

Africa Has Lost a Third of Its Elephants in Just 7 Years

Cities Fight Flooding by Turning Rooftops Into Prairies

This week's other two articles were both for Scientific American, where writing about extinction occasionally brings some good news:

How Social Networks Could Save Hawaiian Monk Seals

Nautilus Finally Moves toward Endangered Species Protection

I have lots more in the works, so follow me on Twitter for links as new articles go live, or come on back here next Monday for another run-down.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Elephant feet, science detectives & wrong rocks

As hard as my regular readers may find this to believe, I try not to write about elephants too often. Oh, sure, the elephant poaching crisis is an unbelievable nightmare, but there are so many other species to write about that. Elephants can't get all the press.

That's why this week's first article was so important. I not only got to write about elephants, it's a story that also involves at least 61 other species:

The Amazing Biodiversity within an Elephant's Footprint

That article was for Scientific American, as was this one:

How Invasive Species (Slowly) Push Plants Toward Extinction

Next up, my latest for TakePart, which quite accidentally happened to run on the centennial of the National Park System:

The New Graffiti: National Parks Fight Stone Stackers

Finally this week, here's a story that combines science and 30 years of detective work, my latest for Hakai magazine:

It’s Happening Now: Climate Change Is Killing Off the Yellow Cedar

That's it this time around. I have lots more pending publication. Follow me on Twitter for headline as they go live, or come on back here next Monday for another list.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Eco-Tech + Snakes + Philately

Another week, another few bylines. Yes, it's Monday and that means it's time for another list of links to my previous week's articles. This time around we (being me, the royal we) have a pretty wild and varied list for you, so get comfortable.

I'll start with two new articles for TakePart, where I'm broadening my range of topics to cover some green technology-type stories:

5 New Technologies Could Make Jet Travel Green

Supercomputer Makes Predicting Floods a Whole Lot Easier

Next up, two new "Extinction Countdown" stories for Scientific American. The first did really well, while the second was just plain fun to write.

Rare Burrowing Snake Discovered in Mountains of Mexico

Can Stamp Collecting Help Conserve Rare Species?

Finally this week, here are two new technology careers articles for different IEEE publications. The first is for IEEE-USA InSight, while the second is for The Institute:

Engineers Find Meaningful Careers in Health Informatics

IEEE Collabratec Introduces a Mentoring Feature

I have lots of great stuff in the works, so come on back next Monday for another list, or hit me up on the Tweeter for links as they go live.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Snails, Climate Change, Renewable Energy and Weeds

Well now, the past few weeks have been busy in the extreme. I have a ton of new work in the queue, and last week saw the publication of six new articles.

Credit: Alan Liefting
Let's start this link list with two next "Extinction Countdown" articles for Scientific American, both of which look at some species that shouldn't be ignored:

Snails Are Going Extinct: Here's Why That Matters

Are Bats Facing a Hidden Extinction Crisis?

Sticking with endangered species for a bit, here's my second piece for PBS's Nature:

Can the Saltmarsh Sparrow Keep Its Head Above Water?

Finally this week, here are three new articles for TakePart:

Air Force Tries Killing Weeds With Light Beams, Not Pesticides

Oregon Finds Switching From Coal to Renewable Energy Is a Bargain

Pollution Threatens Little-Known but Unique Seal

I'm pretty proud of the fact that most of this week's stories are subjects that you won't read about anywhere else. That's always one of my goals -- to bring attention to things that no one else is talking about.

More next week, or follow along on Twitter for links to headlines as they happen!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Bees, Birds and Beef (plus a Big Question)

Hey folks, I've got some good reading for you this week, starting with the first of a series of articles I'm writing for PBS's Nature:

A Buzz-Worthy Way to Protect Elephants

Next up, two big new articles for TakePart:

Is It Ethical to Kill Poachers? [This had generated more than 1,000 comments on the article and on Facebook the last time I checked.]

The Endangered Species Act Is for the Birds

Also this week, my latest for Motherboard:

Brazilian Cows Are Killing Endangered Birds—But ‘Bird-Safe’ Beef Could Help

That's enough reading, right? Well now you can relax and listen in as I talk about Pokemon Go on the Carolina Outdoors radio show (based on my recent article for TakePart).

Lots more this week. Follow me on Twitter for links as they go live.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Sharks + Wetlands + Tinder

Credit: Kevin Burkett
Hey folks, here's my latest list of links for your Monday morning. Or Tuesday afternoon. Or whatever. You can read them whenever you like. I don't control you. Free will is a beautiful thing.


Anyway. Links... Here they are, two articles for Scientific American and one for TakePart:

The Daggernose Shark Is Near Extinction

Swipe Right if You Love Endangered Monkeys

New Wetlands Are Being Created in Weird Ways—and That’s Good for Birds

More next Monday -- or whenever!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

RIP, Richard Thompson

I am saddened today to hear of the death of cartoonist Richard Thompson, who succumbed to Parkinson's after a long struggle. Here's an article I wrote about him and efforts to help him back in 2011. Originally published at

Comic-Strip Fans Team Up to Fight Parkinson's Disease

When cartoonist Richard Thompson announced he had Parkinson's disease, one fan stood up to help make a difference.

Even though it is just a few years old, the comic strip Cul de Sac has already earned a legion of die-hard fans through its chaotic energy and vibrant characters. So when cartoonist Richard Thompson announced that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, a brain disorder that can lead to tremors and more extreme physical coordination problems, his fans sat up and took notice.

One of those fans was Chris Sparks, a graphic designer and web developer in Asheville, N.C., who had met Thompson at a comic-book convention in 2008. The two became friends, and Sparks was building a website for Thompson when the artist announced his diagnosis.

"I started reading more about Parkinson's," says Sparks. His reading included books by Michael J. Fox, perhaps the world's most famous person with Parkinson's. "I was really touched," he says. Sparks visited the Michael J. Fox Foundation website and saw that people could form public fundraising teams to raise money for Parkinson's research. He quickly decided to form his own team: Team Cul de Sac.

But Sparks decided to take a different path than most "Team Fox" fundraisers. He has reached out to dozens of cartoonists around the world, who will be submitting artwork inspired by the Cul de Sac strip for inclusion in a book which Thompson's publisher, Andrews McMeel, has agreed to release next year. Some of the proceeds from the book will go to the foundation, but after the book is released, the artwork will also be auctioned off, with all proceeds going to Fox Foundation. The ultimate goal is to raise $250,000 for the foundation.

"We've already had around 60 people say they're interested in contributing," says Sparks. "Cartoonists, fine artists, anyone who wants to contribute is great. My goal is to get as many as possible."

One cartoonist who has already turned in his contribution is Alaska's Peter Dunlap-Shohl, who also has Parkinson's. "It always brightens my day when I get an email from someone who has Parkinson's who is touched that we are doing this different thing with a sense of humor," says Sparks.

Although many people with Parkinson's are private about their conditions, Thompson is not one of them. He's happy to put his support behind the project. "Parkinson's was described to me as a disease that first robs you of your dignity. So it's fitting to combat a slapstick disease with cartoons," he says.

The Team Cul de Sac fundraising page has full information on how artists can contribute to the project, as well as how others can donate toward their fundraising goal.

"I think we can make a difference," says Sparks, who points out that his love of comics inspired him. "I've been reading comics since I was five years old, and most of the cartoonists I've met have been wonderful human beings," he says. "They've made a difference in my life, and I hope to make a difference as well."

Image originally courtesy of Richard Thompson.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Angelic kittens + devilish plants + venture capitalists

Credit: Alex Riddell/RZSS
Hey folks! I spent most of last week at the North American Congress for Conservation Biology, so I didn't do much writing, but a few articles that I had previously submitted made their way into the real world. Here are the first two, my latest "Extinction Countdown" pieces for Scientific American:

Adorable Kittens Represent Hope for Nearly Extinct Scottish Wildcats

Newly Discovered "Devil Orchid" is Critically Endangered

And on a completely different note, here's my latest tech careers feature for IEEE-USA InSight:

What Venture Capitalists Want

That's it for this Monday. Come on back a week from now for what will likely be a longer list!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Pokemon, Rabbits, Orangutans and Dead Birds

Hey folks! It's Monday morning and I'm at the North American Congress for Conservation Biology, learning about all kinds of things that could become future articles. But let's pause all of that new stuff to take a look back at the articles I published last week. Here they are, two for TakePart and two for Scientific American:

Scientists’ New Research Tool: Pokémon Go

Viral Videos Are Destroying Japan’s Supercute Rabbit Island

Bornean Orangutan Now Critically Endangered

Tragic Deaths Represent a Victory in Spoon-Billed Sandpiper Conservation

I won't have too many new articles out this week (although I know of at least two that have already been scheduled), but follow me on Twitter for headlines as they happen.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Pitch me

A lot of people ask what kinds of story ideas I look for these days. Here are a few ideas. Okay, more than a few. This isn't intended to be all-inclusive (despite its length), but at the very least it's a pretty good start.

Wildlife and Endangered Species:
  • Species newly declared endangered or extinct (recoveries are nice, too)
  • Newly discovered species
  • New threats to species
  • New conservation programs
  • Conservation milestones (good or bad)
  • Human-wildlife conflict (and mitigation techniques)
  • Stories about wildlife that illustrate broader issues
  • Broader issues that can bring together several smaller stories 
  • Other stuff that's slipped through the cracks
  • Stories about the people behind any of the above
(In general, I don't care what kind of animal or species someone is studying or trying to conserve. I'll write about anything from whales to algae, and I like to cover a broad mix of species types from all corners of the world.)

Other Environmental Topics:
  • Green technologies, both for consumers and industry
  • Pollution, especially plastics, e-waste and light pollution
  • Climate change -- new data, new threats, or new mitigation techniques
  • Forestry issues
  • Water/drought
  • Urban sustainability
  • Stories about specific places that help to illustrate broader worldwide issues
  • People fighting the good fight
  • Important events in environmental history that have added relevance today
  • Personal stories and struggles about all of the above 

Science and Technology Careers:
  • What it's like to work in a given field
  • Important (emerging?) skills or that people should have (this can be hard skills or soft skills)
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Societal issues, such as women in tech

The Arts:
  • Novels, comic books or movies -- if they're about any of the above

The Maybe Stuff:
  • I'm not too concerned with domesticated animals, whether they're pets or for agriculture, but I won't completely rule out stories about them.
  • Portland, Oregon stories -- Hey, that's where I live. Try me.
  • Philanthropy -- I enjoy telling stories about people doing good things, but I don't really have a venue to tell those types of tales right now. Still, if it fits into the broader themes above, you have a better chance.
  • Weird history -- I love this stuff, but again, I don't have too many places to write about it lately.
  • Animal behavior or psychology -- Other journalists focus on this, so I usually leave it to them. On the other hand, if it plays into conservation issues, hit me up.

That's plenty, right? Well, here's one last caveat: I'm mostly looking for stories, not just facts. Give me something personal, something to care about, something that will inspire my readers to take action. That's what I'm looking for most of all.

Well, now that you've read this too-long list, let's see what you've got. I make no guarantees or promises about what stories I'll cover, but I look forward to hearing from people. Drop me a line any time at johnrplatt [at]

Monday, July 11, 2016

Solar Firefly Otters (and Other Stuff)

Peter Trimming. Creative Commons license
One of my favorite gigs each year involves interviewing the winner of the IEEE Presidents' Scholarship for The Institute. Here's my article about this year's inspiring teen:

Texas High School Student Designs Self-Cooling Solar Cell

Last week also brought my latest for TakePart, a story you won't read anywhere else:

Firefly Populations Are Blinking Out

Finally this week, here are two new Extinction Countdown articles for Scientific American -- bad news and (at the very least) interesting news:

Asian Otters are the Latest Victims of the Illegal Pet and Fur Trades

The Italian Alps Hold a Secret: A New Species of Viper

On a slightly different note, you can hear me talk about turtles on the latest Green Dudes segment of the Green Divas podcast here.

That's it for this week's link list. Come on back next Monday for more links!

Monday, July 4, 2016

Cecil the Lion Week

Happy Monday / Fourth of July! Given the impending holiday, I didn't publish too many articles last week. In fact, there were just two, both of which focused on the aftermath of the death of Cecil the lion one year ago. Here they are, the first for TakePart and the second for Scientific American.

One Year After Cecil’s Death, Lions Face Bigger Threats Than Hunting

A Growing Threat to Lions: Illegal Trade in their Bones

There probably won't be too many articles this coming week, either, consider it's a four-day workweek, but all the same, check in here next Monday for whatever list ends up happening.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Wildlife Selfies + Tuna Week

Another week, another list of articles. This week I have four new links for you, three of which are stories you won't read anywhere else.

I'll start with two important new articles for TakePart:

Why People Keep Taking Deadly Selfies With Animals

Drones Uncover Illegal Logging in Critical Monarch Butterfly Reserve

...and finish things off with what became Tuna Week at Scientific American:

Suing over Sushi: Protection Sought for Pacific Bluefin Tuna

Another Threat to Tuna: Ocean Acidification

That's it this time around. More headlines next Monday!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Two Extinctions (and Other Happy News)

For a journalist who works the endangered species beat, I haven't written about too many actual extinctions lately. That changed this week, with news of not just one but two species that have now been lost. Here are the articles, for Scientific American:

First Bird Extinction in the Galápagos Islands Confirmed

Climate Change Has Claimed Its First Mammal Extinction

Luckily I had some other stuff to write about this week, but these stories for TakePart also weren't very good news:

These Maps Could Help Predict the Next Big Animal-to-Human Disease Outbreak

LED Streetlights Are Good for the Earth, Bad for Humans and Wildlife

But that's the bad news out of the way. Here, my second article for Hakai magazine, presents some interesting new science. I should write about whales more often.

Sperm Whales Have an “Eve”

Okay, let's switch gears, but not completely. Here are two eco-related features from the July issue of American Builders Quarterly, the first of which is actually this issue's cover story:

All Work and All Play for Nelson Treehouse and Supply

American University’s Energy Supply Went 50 Percent Green Overnight

Finally, here's something completely different: my latest tech careers article for IEEE's The Institute:

How to Land a Job in Artificial Intelligence 

That's it for this time around. Hopefully next week won't present such a bleak group of stories!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Exploitation, Noise, Light and Poop

Hey there, fellow Monday sufferers. Another week has passed us on by, which is always a good chance to look back at what was. In my case, that means listing and in some cases reflecting on the articles that I published over the past seven days.

There were quite a few of them this time. I'll start with a feature article that Scientific American asked me to write in the wake of Harambe the gorilla, that bison calf at Yellowstone and the mess at Thailand's Tiger Temple:

Wildlife Tourism Faces Dark Days—but Revenue Soars

Next up, my latest for Audubon, an exclusive that you won't read about anywhere else:

Human Noise Robs Owls of Their Ability to Hunt

Sticking with birds that have been screwed by modern society for a moment, here are my latest "Extinction Countdown" articles for SciAm (yes, them again):

Another Threat to Hawaiian Birds: Cat Poop

Saudi Arabian Cattle Breed Nearly Extinct

And finally, let's end this list with three powerful and important articles for TakePart:

Cambodia’s Leopards Could Be Extinct in Just Two Years

A New Tool Reveals Where Tropical Forests Most Need Saving

Light Pollution Blocks the Night Sky for One-Third of Humanity

That's it for this week. Join my here on future Mondays, or follow me on Twitter for headlines as they happen.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

From the Archives: The Golden Goose Awards

Federally Funded Research: The Key to Unexpected (and Valuable) Discoveries

By John R. Platt

(Originally published November 2013 in IEEE-USA's Today's Engineer)

One of the most important discoveries in modern genetics and biotechnology got its start more than four decades ago with a grant from the National Science Foundation to study the humble bacteria that live in high-temperature geysers in Yellowstone National Park. Back in 1969 microbiologist Thomas Brock and his undergraduate research assistant, Hudson Freeze, journeyed to Yellowstone and discovered a new bacteria species, which they named Thermus aquaticus bacteria, in the waters of the Lower Geyser Basin. In the years that followed their discovery unlocked new fields of study for other researchers, inspiring new technologies for studying DNA, genetic tests to diagnose diseases and conditions, and sequencing the human genome.

That's the beauty and importance of federally funded research, says Freeze, who today serves as the director of the genetic disease program at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute in La Jolla, California. "You can't predict where the research is going to go next."

Taking a Chance on the Unexpected

The early work of Brock and Freeze has not been forgotten. This year they are among the honorees of the second annual Golden Goose Award, which was created to recognize scientists and engineers whose federally funded research led to "significant human and economic benefits." The award, now in its second year, highlights seemingly obscure federally funded studies that led to later breakthroughs which had a major impact on society. The other recipients of this year's award include John Eng, whose study of Gila monster venom led to an important drug for diabetes; and David Gale, Lloyd Shipley and Alvin Roth, whose separate research into subjects as varied as marriage stability and urban school choice programs let to the creation of the national kidney exchange program.

"The value of federally funded research has been proven time and time again," says Barry Toiv, vice president for public affairs at the Association of American Universities, one of the organizations sponsoring the Golden Goose Award. (IEEE-USA helped to sponsor a video about this year's award.) "Economists suggest that 50% of growth over the last several decades has been a result of innovation, much of which is in turn a result of federally funded research at American universities."

Toiv says this research is important even though "it's impossible to know where so much of it is going to lead. It's basic research, mostly, and it may not have some end-result in mind when it takes place."

Federally funded research is the "only place that you can take that kind of chance," says Freeze. "Private industry can't do it because they have to show that they're working on something that will eventually yield a profit." He notes that the life-saving research being done at his own organization, a non-profit, would probably not be conducted at all in the for-profit world.

Thom Mason, director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee, echoes this observation. "There's not a lot of room for fundamental science in an environment where people are driven by the next quarterly report." He says corporations have a hard time justifying investments that "may take decades to pay off, or pay off in a completely different way than anticipated and not necessarily in a way that would enrich the company which did the work."

ORNL receives its funding through the Department of Energy's Office of Science, as well as the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. Although the lab does tend to work in areas that Mason characterizes as "not too far away from some kind of end-use application," the fact that they do not build or sell anything means they are not restricted to work that has an immediate commercial application. "We can push things to a point of proof of principle and then, hopefully, hand it off to the private sector or the Department of Defense or whoever to really deploy it."

Research for All

Beyond funding individual projects, federal dollars also help pay for collective resources that become available to researchers from around the country. ORNL, for example, hosts the famous Titan supercomputer, the Spallation Neutron Source and the High Flux Isotope Reactor, among other tools. "It's a big investment," Mason says. "These are shared resources. They serve a wide range of communities."

These types of systems exist outside the scope of most if not all corporate budgets, says IEEE Fellow Pramod Khargonekar, assistant director for the National Science Foundation's Engineering Directorate. "Modern scientific and engineering research involves very sophisticated infrastructure, whether that infrastructure is physical laboratories, instruments or computational resources. It's very difficult to imagine that any entity other than the federal government would have the resources to create and then support and sustain this kind of fundamental, long-term basic research. I think it's just too expensive for any single entity."

Beyond that, Mason points out that the majority of the research conducted at government facilities is open-literature research. "It's not proprietary, so again, how would you ever justify a return to shareholders if the results are just going to be published in the open literature?" Since most of this research is basic science, it is also hard to protect it as intellectual property, a priority for corporate research.

Outside of the research itself, the federal government helps support the development of young scientists. "We're not just federally funding research," Toiv says, "we're also funding training of scientists and engineers, and this has been extraordinarily successful for the country."

Khargonekar himself benefitted from that support back in 1985 when, as a young researcher, he received the NSF's Presidential Investigator Award. "I must say it was one of the best things that have happened to me in professional life," he tells me. "I still remember receiving the certificate with President Reagan's signature on it. You know, I was born in India and I came to U.S. to do my graduate work. But to receive an award from the President of the United States left a deep impression on me and was very, very helpful in my early research." He used the funding from the award to attract "some really outstanding graduate students" and together they wrote a number of papers which he says have had a very strong impact on the field of control theory. "That NSF Presidential Investigator Award was certainly very critical to our success and I think at the foundation of my professional career," he says.

Despite Successes, Threats Abound

Despite the proven track record of federally funded research, budgets continue to shrink. The federal sequester of 2011 and the shut-down of 2013 both hurt federally funded science, and some politicians see the need to cut things even more. "Research funding is going down," Toiv says. "It's not just flat. It's just declining." Many research labs have had to shutter projects, lay off employees and scale back their operating hours as a result of these cuts.

Meanwhile a few politicians even go as far as to mock federally funded science projects, something we first saw decades ago when then-Senator William Proxmire began issuing his monthly Golden Fleece Awards. (The Golden Goose Award is named in part as a response to Proxmire's awards.) "This is damaging to the public's view of science," Toiv says. "When policy-makers ridicule individual examples of research, when they look for things that sound funny, when they target and when they try to de-fund them or even try to de-fund entire disciplines, they are dismissing the possibilities of discovery. They are, in the long run, damaging the country, because they are limiting the possibilities of innovation that benefits the economy, that leads to a new industry and that leads to a new idea that ends up saving lives."

The public isn't the only group to feel the effect of this dismissal. Researchers feel it as well. "If the creativity of researchers is stifled, if they are worried or if federal agencies are worried that they can't fund research, it could damage the entire innovation enterprise that has made this country," Toiv says.

While Sanford-Burnham has ramped up its efforts to attract additional funding from philanthropists and to license some of its discoveries, that may not be the most sustainable path. Freeze says funding uncertainty has already created a brain drain in his organization, as faculty members have left to take positions overseas. Similar brain drains are happening around the country, as other nations attract people with promises of more stable funding. Several European countries, China and Korea are pouring their resources into research and basing their systems on that in the U.S.

"Other countries are absolutely trying to imitate this," Toiv says, "because the magnitude of the success of the scientific enterprise in this country is unquestionable." He points at countries such as China, which is developing new research universities at a record pace. "They're not going to match our research universities in the short run, but in the long they are."

Let's Talk

Although Mason acknowledges that other countries are overtaking us, he says the U.S. remains the "gold standard" for federally funded research. Khargonekar used the same phrase when describing the NSF grant review process, which he calls "one of the very best review processes anywhere in the world." That helps to support the high quality of the research being done in this country. "We do the best job we can for the taxpayers and for the public so that their investments help society as best as is possible."

But do the public and legislators get that message? Freeze suggests that researchers in general "haven't done the greatest job at the grassroots level of educating people about science and where science funding comes from."

Khargonekar takes it further: "We, the scientific community and the engineering community, need to continuously make the case to the public and the policy makers as to why investment in research is critically important for national progress, our well-being and our society to remain economically competitive, health of our citizens, and the security of the nation."

And Mason recommends that emphasizing the value of science in general may help to alleviate fears about the economy. "A component of solving the deficit problem has to be growth in the economy," he says. "You've got to grow the revenues. You've got to grow the economy, and innovation technology research is a critical part of that."

Toiv suggests that politicians may need to be better educated about the value of scientific research. "What policy-makers sometimes don't realize is that the work that researchers do may end up leading to some extraordinary innovation, but it's impossible to know at the time. It is discovery upon discovery, twists and turns. Researchers are looking for one thing and they find something else. There's serendipity often involved."

How do we turn things around? Freeze suggests that a well-prepared team of engineers going out and talking to local groups could help do the trick. "Just try and think what a thousand scientists could do by going out there and preaching the value of science. It would be revolutionary."

It may also help to embrace and promote why we conduct science in the first place. "It speaks to us as human beings who are curious about our place in the world and want to know how the world works," Khargonekar says. "Since the dawn of human civilization that fundamental drive to know and explore the frontier is part of what makes for a great society."

For Further Reading: