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: Pok√©mon 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.