The coolest thing about my job is that I get to read a lot of new scientific research and see a lot of cool new technology even before it becomes the day’s news. It’s really easy to get swept up in the excitement of that, and in fact, part of my job is conveying some of that excitement to readers, because viral reservoirs are delightfully horrifying, dinosaurs are awesome, and crashing a spacecraft into another planet makes for an exciting story. By the way, did you know that we’ve actually managed to reach up into space and grab a sample of actual stardust from outside our solar system? The world – the universe, really – is an amazing place. Some days, I look around and wonder if I’m actually living in a science fiction novel.
It’s important to take a critical look at new research and new inventions, though. That doesn’t mean that I have to be negative about everything, but it does mean that when I’m looking at news about animal behavior research, a potential new medical treatment, a planned space mission, or a cool new feat of engineering, I have to ask some questions, like:
Is this really going to work? Is this really groundbreaking research, or just a new angle on something that’s already mostly understood? How big is it, really? Do these researchers have a conflict of interest? What about this safety concern or that environmental concern? Will it ever be scalable or affordable?
I try really hard to balance that critical approach with a sense of wonder. That’s something science and journalism have in common, I guess. Of course, some days, I cover stories like this one and still find myself thinking, “Holy crap, we live in the future.”
Those are the best days.