Skip to main content

Brian Switek – Four Way Interview

Brian Switek is a freelance science writer based out of Salt Lake City, Utah. In addition to writing about paleontology and natural history for publications such as Smithsonian, Scientific American, the Wall Street Journal, The Times, and others, he has published academic articles on fossils and has participated in fieldwork in Utah, Wyoming, and Montana. He also writes the blogs Laelaps for Wired Science and Dinosaur Tracking for Smithsonian. Written in Stone is his first book, and he is currently working on a follow-up titled A Date with a Dinosaur.
Why science?
Science is our ongoing effort to interrogate nature and understand the universe we inhabit. The more we discover, the more questions we have, and how we perceive ourselves is intimately wrapped up in our endeavour to understand reality. Science is not just the systematic accumulation of facts – it is an essential part of the human journey filled with poetry, serendipity, and surprises.
Why this book?
There’s no shortage of books about evolution, but I was frustrated by the short shrift the fossil record received in many of them. How can we understand evolution at all if we virtually ignore the deep history of life on earth? The patterns and processes of evolution in the deep past provide the essential context for life on earth today, and wanted to introduce readers to the intricate beauty of what prehistoric life can teach us about how familiar parts of the natural world came to be as they are.
What’s next?
I am currently working on my second book – A Date With a Dinosaur. I have been a dinosaur freak since I was knee-high to a Stegosaurus, so this is a dream come true for me. This summer I have been travelling around the west, searching for fossils with different field crews, and I hope that the stories I bring back with me will help my future readers understand why our image of dinosaurs has changed so drastically over the years. Why is the Tyrannosaurus of today not your daddy’s dinosaur? That’s what I’m setting out to explain.
What’s exciting you at the moment?
Paleontology is the most integrative of evolutionary sciences. It isn’t just the combination of geology and comparative anatomy – ideas and techniques from various disciplines, from biochemistry to evolutionary theory, have been brought into the science to better understand how the world was long before our species evolved. From the body temperatures of ichthyosaurs to the colours of dinosaurs, paleontologists are finally starting to approach questions we have always had but have previously been unable to answer. There has never been a more exciting time for paleontology than now.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Dialogues - Clifford Johnson ***

The authors of science books are always trying to find new ways to get the message across to their audiences. In Dialogues, Clifford Johnson combines a very modern technique - the graphic novel or comic strip - with an approach that goes back to Ancient Greece - using a dialogue to add life to what might seem a dry message.

We have seen the comic strip approach trying to put across quite detailed science before in Mysteries of the Quantum Universe. As with that book, Dialogues manages to cover a fair amount of actual physics, but I still feel that the medium just wastes vast acres of page to say very little at all. This is brought home here because quite a lot of the sections of Dialogues start with several pages with no text on at all, just setting up the scenario.

As for using a discussion between two people to put a message across, Johnson makes the point that, for instance, Galileo's very readable masterpiece Two New Sciences is in the form of a dialogue (more accurately a discu…

Liam Drew - Four Way Interview

Liam Drew is a writer and former neurobiologist. he has a PhD in sensory biology from University College, London and spent 12 years researching schizophrenia, pain and the birth of new neurons in the adult mammalian brain. His writing has appeared in Nature, New Scientist, Slate and the Guardian. He lives in Kent with his wife and two daughters. His new book is I, Mammal.

Why science?

As hackneyed as it is to say, I think I owe my fascination with science to a great teacher – in my case, Ian West, my A-level biology teacher.  Before sixth form, I had a real passion for the elegance and logic of maths, from which a basic competence at science at school arose.  But I feel like I mainly enjoyed school science in the way a schoolkid enjoys being good at stuff, rather than it being a passion.

Ian was a revelation to me.  He was a stern and divisive character, but I loved the way he taught.  He began every lesson by providing us with a series of observations and fact, then, gradually, between …

A Galaxy of Her Own - Libby Jackson ****

This is an interesting book, even if it probably tries to be too many things to too many people. I wondered from the cover design whether it was a children's book, but the publisher's website (and the back of the book) resolutely refuse to categorise it as such. The back copy doesn't help by saying that it will 'inspire trailblazers and pioneers of all ages.' As I belong to the set 'all ages' I thought I'd give it a go.

Inside are featured the 'stories of fifty inspirational women who have been fundamental to the story of humans in space.' So, in some ways, A Galaxy of Her Own presents the other side of the coin to Angela Saini's excellent Inferior. But, inevitably, given the format, it can hardly provide the same level of discourse.

Despite that 'all ages' comment and the lack of children's book labelling we get a bit of a hint when we get to a bookplate page in the form of a Galaxy Pioneers security pass (with the rather worrying…