"Hearing about the Big Bang for the First Time"

Insightful story in Scientific American about a science writer who goes back to the classroom and rediscovers the excitement of scientific discovery by teaching about it to undergraduates.

Eventually I veered away from celebratory science writing. I decided that I could better serve readers by critiquing and even debunking scientific claims, which are often exaggerated, incoherent or wrong. Science, I persuaded myself, needs tough, informed criticism more than “gee-whiz” journalism, which in unskilled hands resembles mere marketing.

The trouble was, I felt myself becoming jaded, losing the sense of wonder that lured me into science journalism in the first place. We’re all subject to habituation, perhaps for reasons related to evolution. Our brains weren’t designed to keep us in a state of slack-jawed awe before the weirdness of existence; that wouldn’t be very adaptive

Ironically, teaching has helped me overcome my habituation. I started teaching at Stevens Institute of Technology in 2005 because I needed money to supplement my freelance income. At first, I felt awkward in the classroom. I’m a dilettante, I kept thinking, not an expert in anything. I don’t have a doctorate, only a master’s in journalism. (When I confessed my insecurity to a friend, nuclear historian Alex Wellerstein, he replied, Lots of us professors suffer from impostor syndrome, but in your case it might be justified.)

Lots of interesting thoughts.


Jim Bagrow
Jim Bagrow
Associate Professor of Mathematics & Statistics

My research interests include complex networks, computational social science, and data science.