How will medicine deal with AI’s mistakes?

In The Yuan

From my article in The Yuan, posted August 1, 2022

Medical errors cost the lives of some 250,000 people a year in the U.S. alone, calculates the BMJ, making them the third leading cause of death, with a price tag of some $20 billion a year. Research suggests AI can help cut this staggeringly high error rate. For example, AI systems have been shown in different studies to exceed physicians’ accuracy in diagnosing cancer in both pathology slides and imaging, and in detecting brain hemorrhages that lead to stroke, reducing both false positives and false negatives.

But even if AI systems get it wrong at a lower rate than physicians, they may still be seen as causing more problems than they solve. That’s because there is a well-established infrastructure designed to catch, analyze, prevent and correct conventional medical errors. But there is as of yet little such infrastructure for AI medical errors….Read more

Will Trump Do Time?

In Newsweek

From my cover story in the July 29, 2022, issue of Newsweek

“It’s no longer premature to say that Trump could end up in prison,” says Michael Conway, a longtime trial lawyer who started his career as counsel for the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment inquiry into Richard Nixon in 1974 , and who now teaches ethics and the law at Northwestern University. “It’s a winnable case.” Here’s a look at what charges Trump may well be facing—and, if they are in fact brought against him, how the results are likely to play out in the courtroom and conceivably the prison system….Read more

Abortion, Science and Post-Roe America

In Newsweek

From my cover story in the June 24, 2022, issue of Newsweek

In the half-century since Roe v. Wade, the science of fetal development and early birth has advanced considerably. Neonatal physicians and researchers have modified their thinking on when a fetus is and isn’t viable outside the womb, on how it makes the transition from a bundle of cells to a thinking, feeling being, on the relationship between a fetus and the health of the mother and on the many factors that determine whether a particular premature birth will be successful….Read more

Big Tech’s Reckoning

In Newsweek

From my cover story in the May 13, 2022, issue of Newsweek

In February, the company formerly known as Facebook lost $232 billion in value in the stock market. Meta Platforms, as the company is now formally known, can only wish that a brutal stock beating is its only problem. The company is also facing a daunting level of ire, which is splashing over onto the rest of Big Tech—that is, Google, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft. These tech giants are facing scrutiny from regulators and legislators both in the U.S. and Europe. And they are all objects of an intensifying resentment on the part of the public….Read more

Tiny Reactors Could Spark a Nuclear Revolution to Fight Climate Change

In Newsweek

From my article in the January 21, 2022, issue of Newsweek (posted online 1/12/22)

A new generation of nuclear reactors is emerging as a potential solution to climate change. The new reactors are designed to be simpler, safer, cheaper and much, much smaller. One tiny reactor the size of a school bus could supply power to a nearby town or factory. Or many of them could be strung together to equal the output of a giant nuclear plant. Not only are they expected to be safer and to produce electricity more cheaply than conventional nuclear plants, they also do so without releasing so much as a puff of greenhouse gas….Read more

If Trump cries foul in 2024, millions of armed Americans might respond

In Newsweek

From my article in the January 14, 2022, issue of Newsweek (posted online 12/20/21)

Mike “Wompus” Nieznany is a 73-year-old Vietnam veteran who walks with a cane from the combat wounds he received during his service. That disability doesn’t keep Nieznany from making a living selling custom motorcycle luggage racks from his home in Gainesville, Georgia. Neither will it slow him down when it’s time to visit Washington, D.C.—heavily armed and ready to do his part in overthrowing the U.S. government.

Nieznany represents something beyond militia: a much larger and more diffuse movement of more-or-less ordinary people, stoked by misinformation, knitted together by social media and well-armed….Read more

Is Ivermectin “Bogus,” or a “Miracle Drug”?

In Newsweek

ivermectin clinical trial

From my article online in Newsweek, posted October 5, 2021

The reluctance of scientists, doctors and regulators to endorse ivermectin as a COVID-19 treatment has inflamed the political right in the U.S. Conservative pundits have called it a “miracle drug,” and even some prominent Republican members of Congress are fuming. The reaction on the political left has been nearly as hyperbolic, with headlines calling it a “bogus COVID treatment” and “a darling of conspiracy-mongers”….Read more

Are we ready for virtual war?

In Newsweek

FE Cover Military AI BANNER

The US is the only nation with ethical standards for AI Weapons. Should we be afraid?

From my cover story in the Sept. 24, 2021, issue of Newsweek

At a time when the U.S. has pulled its troops from Afghanistan and is reluctant to commit them to other conflicts around the world, the ability to attack from a distance with unmanned weapons is becoming a key element of U.S. military strategy. Artificial intelligence, by endowing machines with the ability to make battlefield decisions on their own, makes this strategy viable. Plans are being laid to include AI in a whole arsenal of weaponry, ranging from fighter jets to submarines to missiles, which will be able to strike at terrorists and enemy forces entirely under their own control–humans, optional….Read more

A Doomsday COVID Variant Worse Than Delta and Lambda May Be Coming, Scientists Say

In Newsweek

From my cover story in the August 13, 2021, issue of Newsweek

Delta, like most of the other variants, blindsided us, worsening and extending the pandemic. And the outbreak is going to get much worse, warns Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist who leads the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. “The number of intensive-care beds needed could be higher than any time we’ve seen,” he says. When the damage from Delta starts to subside, what other variants will be lurking just behind it to pull us back down again? The World Health Organization is already keeping an eye on several….Read more

The quest for rest

In Fortune

Sleep could be the key to fighting Alzheimer’s—and a huge business opportunity

From my article in Fortune, posted July 31, 2021

Last year Miranda Lim found that taking care of three young children homebound by the pandemic meant she often had to work late into the evening to stay on top of her job. So she set up a daily alarm—not for waking up, but for heading off to bed at a reasonable hour.

It’s understandable why Lim would be a bit of an alarmist, so to speak, when threatened with a lack of a consistent night’s sleep. A neurologist at the Oregon Health & Science University and a sleep disorders physician at the VA Portland Health Care System, Lim is at the forefront of a global cadre of medical researchers who have in recent years been pinning down the ways in which even moderate sleep deficiencies in middle age strongly link to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia later in life…. Read more [may be paywalled]

Why Ripple’s SEC lawsuit could have a lasting impact on crypto

In Fortune

From my article on, posted July 29, 2021

Trade Crypto for Less Coin | Interactive Brokers LLC

Nine years ago a startup that would eventually be called Ripple Labs came onto the fintech scene with a promising plan to provide financial institutions with fast, low-cost clearance of trans-border money transfers. To make it happen, the company set up a network on which transactions sped across the globe in the form of a cryptocurrency called XRP, which was specially created for the task.

But thanks to its eventual popularity outside of that application, XRP has turned out to be a sort of time bomb with a very long fuse for Ripple….Read more

Chris Evans Wants to Help Gen Z Reshape US Politics

In Newsweek

From my cover story in the June 18, 2021, issue of Newsweek

Members of Congress get a lot of calls from people wanting things, most of which receive polite regrets from staffers. But lately one particular call is consistently getting past the gatekeepers: the one from Chris Evans.

Yes, that Chris Evans.

For a year and a half, the 39-year-old megastar (he turns 40 on June 13), best known for playing Captain America in the Marvel movies, has been quietly working the halls of the Capitol, occasionally in person, in an effort to persuade senators and representatives to put aside their hyper-partisan hyperbole and explain, in under two minutes, their views on politics and policy to a new generation of young potential voters….Read more

Stop Worrying About Free Beer and Doughnuts. We’re in the Middle of a Pandemic.

In The Atlantic

A needle formed by hundred-dollar bills

For too long, we’ve believed the myth that incentives backfire. But there’s nothing wrong with bribing people to get vaccinated.

From my article in The Atlantic, posted May 19, 2021

A stream of grumbling recently turned up in my Twitter feed over incentives that are being offered to encourage Americans to get a COVID-19 vaccine, including money, beer, doughnuts and even weed. The idea that society is better off when people act on “intrinsic” motivation—that is, because they’re inclined to do the right thing—and not on “extrinsic” motivation, such as receiving a cash payment, is widespread. But is there really something inherently wrong with bribing people to do the right thing? And on a practical level, does it work?….Read more


Time for a third party?

In Newsweek

Everything Liz Cheney Has Said About Trump

From my article in Newsweek, posted May 12, 2021

Republicans have stripped Liz Cheney of her leadership role, following her outspoken repudiation of former President Donald Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud. Which raises a question: Might Cheney, along with other prominent Republicans on the outs with the party because they have withheld fealty to the former president, mount their next election bids as independents—or even form a third party? The odds may be better than you think….Read more

Can Biden Fix Healthcare?

In Newsweek

A Healthcare and Public Health Shakeup Is on Democrats’ Agenda

From my cover story in the March 12, 2021, edition of Newsweek

America has a long, sorry record of neglect, poor organization, underfunding, and misplaced priorities when it comes to public health. Add to those woes the sky-high cost of health care, uneven access and relatively poor outcomes, and it’s clear the American public has been living for decades with a health system that is failing. Can Joe Biden get American health back on track?….Read more

Are we losing the race between the vaccines and the mutations?

In Newsweek

From my article in Newsweek, posted Jan. 28, 2021

The virus is changing. It has already mutated into versions that spread more quickly, may kill more efficiently and threaten to undermine the effectiveness of vaccines. The nightmare scenario: the virus mutates into a variant that renders current vaccines weakened or obsolete before the rollout reaches the 150 million or so people needed to achieve herd immunity, which would halt the virus in its tracks….Read more

Facebook’s Plan to Dominate Virtual Reality

In Newsweek

Under Facebook’s leadership, VR could change our lives. Will it also turn us into ‘data cattle’?

From my article in Newsweek, posted Dec. 23, 2020

If Facebook succeeds in its quest to bring VR to social-media masses, it could bring a level of realism and ease-of-use to remote interactions that makes Zoom video look like stone tablets by comparison. It would also position itself to determine not just how we swap posts online, but much of what we experience in an increasingly simulated world—in work, play, education, family, health, commerce and even love….Read more

FedEx Gears Up for All-Out War With Amazon

In Marker

The pandemic turbo-charged e-commerce — now the two giants are battling over the future of shipping

From my article in Marker, posted Dec. 1, 2020

Seven years ago, frustrated with FedEx and UPS delivery delays during the 2013 holiday rush, Amazon began building out its own delivery network for the products it sells and ships. Now Amazon is greasing its delivery network to deliver a much bigger blow: Going into business as a third-party shipper looking to steal business from FedEx and other shippers. But long known as the highest-tech shipper, FedEx is preparing for an all-out battle for shipping dominance, hoping it can get ahead of the one company that has managed to upend virtually every industry it’s touched….Read more

As QAnon Draws New Believers, Scientists Take Aim at a Misinformation Pandemic

In Newsweek

A cadre of scientists are at the forefront of efforts to map QAnon and understand how it works.

From my cover story in the Oct. 23, 2020, issue of Newsweek

The explosion of disinformation that has upended American life and now threatens its democratic institutions has given rise to a new branch of science called “infodemiology.” Inspired by epidemiology, the study of how diseases spread through a population, infodemiology seeks to understand how misinformation and conspiracy theories spread like a disease through a free-wheeling democracy like America’s, with the ultimate goal of understanding how to stem its spread….Read more

A Zoom Thanksgiving Leaves Big Turkey in a Tailspin

In Marker

Inside Butterball’s fight to save the holiday — and its business

From my article in Marker, posted Oct. 14, 2020

Rebecca Welch remembers all too well the Thanksgiving Day she pulled the turkey out of the refrigerator to prep it for the oven and, with a crowd of in-laws standing around watching, realized it was still frozen solid. “I tried to remember everything I knew about thawing, but I was panicking,” she says. Finally, Welch did what some 100,000 other people do every year around Thanksgiving: She called Butterball’s Turkey Talk Line for help. The person at the other end talked her through the warm-water fast-thaw hack, and Thanksgiving was saved….Read more

Winter will make the pandemic worse. Here’s what you need to know.

In MIT Technology Review

As the weather gets colder and people spend more time inside, improving air circulation and filters in buildings will be key to controlling covid-19.

From my article in MIT Technology Review, posted Oct. 8, 2020

As we head into the Northern Hemisphere fall with covid-19 still raging in the US and a number of other parts of the world, two data points provide cause for extra concern.

One is that the seasonal flu—a respiratory viral infection like covid-19—is much more active in the winter. Last year in the US, there were 40 times as many flu cases in the fall and winter months as in the previous spring and summer. Historically, those cooler months see tens of times as many seasonal flu infections in temperate regions.

The other is that the death toll from the 1918 influenza outbreak—the only pandemic to have killed more Americans than this one so far, and one of the deadliest in global history—was five times as high in the US during the late fall and winter as during the summer….Read more

テックスターの壮大野望 [A tech star’s grand ambition]

In Weekly Toyo Keizai [Japanese]


From my article in Weekly Toyo Keizai, posted Oct. 10, 2020

2008年、37歳のイーロン・マスクは人生のどん底にあった。CEOを務める2つの会社がどちらも倒産の危機に瀕していたからだ。テスラは、待望の初のEV「ロードスター」の発売に向けて苦戦していた。宇宙ベンチャーのスペースXは、3回の打ち上げに失敗し、まだ何も名を上げていなかった。悪いことは重なり、大学時代から付き合っていた最初の妻とも破局した。….Read more

An Unexpected Twist Lights Up the Secrets of Turbulence

In Quanta

Having solved a central mystery about the “twirliness” of tornadoes and other types of vortices, William Irvine has set his sights on turbulence, the white whale of classical physics.

From my article in Quanta Magazine, posted September 3, 2020

It’s time to feed the blob. Seething and voracious, it absorbs eight dinner-plate-size helpings every few seconds.

Irvine tightly controls the loops that are the blob’s building blocks and studies the resulting confined turbulence up close and at length. The blob could yield insights into turbulence that physicists have been chasing for two centuries — in a quest that led Richard Feynman to call turbulence the most important unsolved problem in classical physics….Read more


How 3M’s reputation took a big hit over N95 Masks

In Marker


N95 masks are life savers, and could help control the pandemic. Why can’t 3M—or anyone else—make nearly enough of them?

From my article in Marker, posted Aug. 19, 2020

On the evening of April 2, some two weeks into America’s full-blown Covid crisis, President Donald Trump fired off a tweet to his more than 80 million followers:

We hit 3M hard today after seeing what they were doing with their masks… Big surprise to many in government as to what they were doing — will have a big price to pay!

The notion of 3M ending up square in the bilious crosshairs of the Tweeter-in-Chief would have seemed absurd just days earlier. A staid, 118-year-old, Midwestern manufacturing company, 3M is best known for Scotch tape, sandpaper, and Post-It notes — it sells enough of them that it pulled in $32 billion last year, and employs nearly 100,000. Unlike the flashy high-tech wizardry radiating from Silicon Valley, 3M was built on made-America-great, meat-and-potatoes innovation. The company owns some 120,000 patents, and sells some 55,000 products. So how did a much-admired all-American sticky-paper company end up being publicly cast as a pandemic villain?….Read more

How Trump Could Turn the Most Challenging Election Since the Civil War into an Unprecedented Disaster

In Newsweek

From my cover story in the August 14, 2020, edition of Newsweek


….Even in the best of times, a president who threatens to disrespect election norms and laws would be cause for alarm. These are not the best of times. The number of things likely to go wrong in this election is unprecedented. Polls are vulnerable to hacking from China, Russia and North Korea. Efforts to block voter registration and other forms of suppression are rampant, particularly in Republican-controlled states. Skyrocketing COVID-19 infections are likely to keep people from the polls. In states including California, Texas and Washington, protesters have flooded the streets for weeks; in Portland, Oregon, they have clashed with federal troops, all of which could disrupt polling. The electoral college is uniquely positioned this year to collapse, leaving the election deadlocked and plunging the nation into a constitutional crisis. Taken together, these factors make it more likely than at any other time in more than a century that a U.S. election will fail to produce a winner who is accepted by a large majority as legitimate….Read more

Shopify Saved Main Street. Next Stop: Taking On Amazon

In Marker


The Canadian e-commerce company is breathing down Silicon Valley’s neck as the next great enterprise behemoth

From my article in Marker, posted July 22, 2020

In late March, 15,000 gallons of beer were sloshing around in Peter Bulut’s tanks and barrels with nowhere to go. Bulut, the owner of Great Lakes Brewing Co., first started working in his father’s tiny craft brewery in Toronto almost 30 years ago, when he was 21. Back on March 13, when Covid-19 was creeping its way into Toronto, Bulut started taking small precautions, like suspending in-store beer tastings.  Five days after that, facing a 50% drop in business, he laid off a quarter of his 52 employees. Then Bulut had an employee call Shopify to find out what it would take to convert the company’s online merch shop into an online beer-sales-and-delivery store. Bulut was surprised by Shopify’s response. “They jumped all over it,” he says. “They wanted to help us hit big sales volumes”….Read more

Humidity vs. Coronavirus

In Newsweek


From my article in Newsweek posted June 2, 2020

Walter Hugentobler, a Swiss physician who sometimes practices at a clinic in Zurich International Airport, noticed several years ago that pilots and flight attendants seemed unusually susceptible to the flu throughout the year, even though they were generally healthy. More recently, Hazhir Rahmandad, an engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management, noticed that COVID-19 tended to spread in his native Iran at different rates from one region to the next, even when population densities were similar.

Those two observations each led to recent studies that have converged on an important insight into COVID-19: the spread of the disease is likely to vary significantly with temperature and humidity….Read more

Inside the Flour Company Supplying America’s Sudden Baking Obsession

In Marker

A bag of King Arthur Flour propped up next to a baguette, eggs, and a whisk.

How King Arthur Flour found itself in the unlikely crosshairs of a pandemic

From my article in Marker, posted May 20, 2020

Baking bread was a regular family affair in Linda Ely’s childhood home, leaving her with a lifelong bread-baking habit and some powerful memories. “I think of my family every single time I bake,” she says.

Ely has been able to pay some of that gift forward to the thousands of people she has advised over the Baker’s Hotline run by the company she works for — and is to a tiny degree a part-owner of — King Arthur Flour. But in early March, Ely noticed a change in the questions. Partly it was an increase in the sheer number of calls, a jump that seemed more sudden and pronounced than the normal mild pre-Easter build-up. But even stranger was how many of the callers seemed, well, clueless. How do you tell if bread is done? Do I really need yeast? And strangest of all: What can I use instead of flour?….Read more


Your Privacy or Your Life

In Newsweek

lockdown privacy google apple Newsweek cover smartphone

Would you let the government track your smartphone if it meant we could reopen sooner?

From my cover story in the May 20, 2020, edition of Newsweek

Before the pandemic, the plan would have seemed like something ripped from a distant dystopian future in which the human race fully surrenders to Big Tech. On the April 10 online document, the logos of Google and Apple sat atop a description of the companies’ joint plan to enable America’s cellphones to keep track of everyone with whom their owners come into contact….Read more

A Prophet of Scientific Rigor—and a Covid Contrarian

In Wired

Collage of text medical symbols and portrait of Iannidid

John Ioannidis laid bare the foibles of medical science. Now medical science is returning the favor.

From my article for Wired, posted May 1, 2020

I’M STARING AT a small sea of frowning faces on Zoom. “I’m really angry about this,” says one of them. These are medical students at Columbia University, and I’m speaking to a class on communicating medicine. They’ve been friendly up until now, but that all changed when I brought up Stanford University epidemiologist John Ioannidis.

Ioannidis has been a fixture in medical-school curricula for years, achieving something akin to hero status. He’s one of the most-cited scientists of any type in the world, earning acclaim by dedicating his career to telling the fields of biomedicine (and others, too) how little trust one should have in their published research. But almost literally overnight Ioannidis has himself become a case study in how to screw up a medical study. And not just any study: This one concludes that Covid-19 isn’t all that dangerous….Read more