A few years ago, I decided to take up hunting. This was kind of a big deal, because I’d spent the first decade-plus of my adult life as vegetarian. I became a big game hunter for the same reason I raise chickens — to know where my food comes from and ensure that it’s raised and harvested humanely. I figure if I’m not willing to kill it myself, I have no business eating it.
In my latest Washington Post AnyBody column, I write about how I expected to love my treadmill desk like my writing buddy Paolo Bacigalupi and fellow blogger Craig Childs love theirs. But I just don’t. In my Post column, I explain my suspicion that treadmill desks are the wrong solution to an important problem, and at Last Word On Nothing, I devise some theories about why I don’t like the treadmill and recount how James Levine (father of the treadmill desk) gave me permission to give mine a new home.
Heart-warming broadcast homecomings have become the public face of post-deployment family reunions, but the intense happiness of these moments can mask the challenges that lie ahead as military families navigate life after their loved ones return from war. “We call it reunion porn,” says Amy Bushatz, managing editor of Military.com’s SpouseBuzz blog and the wife of an infantry soldier. “The feeling among the people I work with and my readers is that it’s not a fair representation.” The happy welcomes tell only the “mushy reunion half of the story,” she says. “What happens when he gets home? Not just that night, but three weeks from then?”
Yesterday, I was a guest on Ohio Public Radio’s All Side with Ann Fisher, talking about CrossFit and my New York Times review of J.C. Herz’s new book about CrossFit, Learning to Breathe Fire. The 20 minute interview begins 15 minutes into the show. View the archive or listen here: http://streaming.osu.edu/wosu/allsides/090314b.mp3
I recently wrote a Washington Post column about platelet-rich plasma, a treatment highly touted for sports injuries but without much clear evidence. As I later wrote at Last Word On Nothing, PRP provides a case study in why it’s so important to track outcomes in medicine. If you don’t measure your outcomes, you have no way to really know how you’re doing. Humans are notoriously bad at self-evaluating. A 2006 study published in JAMA found that, “physicians have a limited ability to accurately self-assess,” and a 2012 study found that doctors overestimate the value of the care they provide. And if you have an incentive (money?) to keep doing something, results be damned, then if you’re not careful, an ineffective practice can become fixed as the standard of care. Once that happens, it’s very, very difficult to walk it back.
Is journalism a dying profession? Can hard-hitting journalism survive the “gig economy?” Who moved our cheese? I discuss these questions and more with National Geographic editor Dan Vergano and some of my colleagues at Last Word On Nothing. Read it here, at LWON.
As I’ve followed the NCAA basketball tournament (join me and some folks from Radiolab tonight, as we live tweet the final game), I’ve been thinking about the value of collegiate sports. My first experience with sports in college came as an NCAA division I cross-country runner. I lettered in cross-country at the University of Colorado my freshman year, but a freak knee injury cut short my collegiate running career. Though I had no experience in the sport, I started training with my school’s Nordic ski team, and I also bought a bike and joined the cycling team.
Cross-country and skiing were both division I, NCAA sports, but cycling was governed by its own body, outside of the NCAA system, and was overseen by club sports, rather than CU’s varsity athletic program. The difference was immediately noticeable. As a varsity NCAA athlete, I received special treatment — advance, preferential registration for classes, private tutoring if I needed it, and excused time from class to attend practice and meets, not to mention free tickets to all sporting events. This special treatment fostered a sense of privilege. We were part of the student body, but we were treated as if we were somehow above it.
My teammates and I were good students, and we were there to get a degree, we didn’t expect to make a profession out of sport. Nevertheless, as varsity athletes, we understood that performance was expected of us. Our sport was no hobby — we were there to win.
Things were different on the cycling team. My teammates and I were no less devoted to our sport, and our coaches were every bit as enthusiastic as those in the division I sports. But we didn’t have the same sense of entitlement or expectation. We were pursuing the thing we loved and didn’t assume that our classmates would share our reverence for our sport. The school wasn’t pressuring us for results; it was us who created the expectations.
We were national champions my senior year, and we didn’t need the school’s adoration to enjoy the thrill of victory. We were pursuing the sport for its own sake and had won because we’d worked hard and our luck had aligned, as it must to win a championship. Our victory wasn’t the result of financial incentives that allowed us to recruit a winning team from afar. Instead, we’d pulled together a championship team through happenstance and training. Sure, we had plenty of talent (one of my teammates would go on to become a Tour de France stage winner and infamous doper), but the riders on our team had come to CU for school, not to prep for pro sports. The opportunity to race bikes in Boulder was an attractive reason to attend this particular school, not the sole reason for being there.
Read the rest at Last Word On Nothing.
A lot of people have been asking me what I think about Tyler Hamilton’s confession. In 2007, I wrote a Bicycling magazine feature about Tyler, his supporters and why I don’t believe. (You can read the story here.)
I believe in forgiveness, but it takes more than the wave of a hand. I hope that Tyler finds a way to atone for his betrayals and revive the person that he once was. He has a long road ahead.
It was a tremendous honor to be selected as a finalist for the National Magazine Award this year. The nomination was for a Runner’s World feature package, Pet Project.
Last week, I attended the awards ceremony in New York City with my assigning editor, the talented Peter Flax (now editor in chief for Bicycling magazine), Runner’s World’s editor in chief David Willey, fellow writer Marc Parent and a whole table full of other wonderful Runner’s World staffers.
We didn’t win the award, but I had a great time anyway. As a freelancer, I rarely get a chance to see so many of my colleagues in one room. One of the highlights of the evening was meeting up with some of my former editors from the old Health magazine in San Francisco. Barbara Paulsen and Bruce Kelley gave me my start and I’m still grateful.
I figured I should share a few photos, since it’s not often that I trade running shoes for heels.
Our neighborhood lost a great man this week. Up until a few months ago, Mack Gorrod was still rising early every morning to feed his cows. Whenever we had a big snow storm, he would drive his tractor over to plow our driveway. He insisted. He always brought a few treats for our cow dog, who greeted him with enthusiasm every time.
The first time I cried for Mack was the day last fall when they cut down his apple orchard. I knew that once his trees were gone, he would soon follow.
Since his death three days ago, I’ve tried numerous times to write about Ol’ Mack. Yet I find myself unable to articulate the depth of my sorrow. So I was interested to see Slate’s first installment of what looks to be a fascinating look at grief. It follows Meghan O’Rourke‘s outstanding series The Long Good-bye. (The basis of a book by the same title.) The series asked readers to describe their experiences with grief and offers a glimpse into one of our most personal emotions.
Mack had a stroke the same day that my 92-year-old grandma died, and when I saw the ambulance go by that morning–minutes after my mom had given me the news about grandma–I was beside myself. Losing Grandma Penner–my last remaining grandparent–was difficult enough. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing Ol’ Mack too.
We didn’t lose Mack that day; he held on for two more months. In retrospect I’m not sure that was what anyone wanted.
Some day when I gain my composure, I hope to write something more about Mack, but for now all I can say is, Mack was the bedrock of this place I call home.
Farewell Mack Gorrod. This place will not be the same without you.
I really like Kent Sepkowitz’s essay in this week’s Science Times. Sepkowitz, vice chairman of medicine at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, describes an interaction he had with his plumber. He tells the plumber what he thinks the problem is, and the plumber dismisses his explanation out of hand. Sepkowitz has a flash of insight,
I realized how similar these exchanges are to those I sometimes have with patients.
When we’re faced with evidence–medical, scientific, or plumbing-related–our human instinct is to create a story to explain it. Sepkowitz’s dishwasher was putting black flecks on his dishes. The human mind abhors uncertainty, so Sepkowitz invented a cause to explain the flecks. The same thing happens when a patient comes in to Sepkowitz’s office with a nonsensical explanation for a symptom.
The essay provides a vivid illustration of how stories help us process information. This line, in particular, shows why it’s so hard to replace a certain, yet wrong, story with a factual one that’s seeped in uncertainty. Sepkowitz is retelling how he’d shot down a patient’s theory of his illness.
After I finished, we stared at each other in awkward silence. I had broken his heart a little, and I too was demoralized. It is not enjoyable to trample hope.
Earlier this year, Siri Carpenter and Jeanne Erdmann started a terrific blog about science writing called The Open Notebook. The site features interviews with science writers talking about their work and revealing the “story behind the story” for well-regarded science features.
I recently had the privilege of interviewing Slate national correspondent Will Saletan for the site. We discussed his incredible eigh-part series, The Memory Doctor, on experimental psychologist Elizabeth Loftus and her work on false memories. I read the series when it came out and was really excited to see the innovative way that Saletan used the web to draw readers into the story.
In the first installment of the series, he invited readers to take part in an interactive online experiment designed to illustrate how easily memories can be manipulated. (Check it out here.) Readers were shown different images depicting recent political events and asked whether they remembered them. What readers didn’t know was that one of the photos was doctored to show an event that hadn’t happened—President Obama shaking hands with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for instance.
Yet about half of the 5,000 readers who took part in Saletan’s online experiment later “remembered” the fake political stories as if they were true. They didn’t walk away with the deception though, all was revealed at the tend.
The experiment served as a powerful introduction to the concept of false memories and to Loftus, who makes a fascinating profile subject.
Read my Q&A with Saletan here.
The sport of running has lost one of its greats. Grete Waitz died of cancer Tuesday, far too young. Along with Joan Benoit, Waitz was one of the role models I idolized as a high school cross-country runner. She was so graceful and humble, something to aspire to.
Runner’s World editor at large Amby Burfoot has a moving tribute on his blog.