Full Transcript

MS: We’ll begin by talking about how the book was curated. Can you give us a bit of background about how it all came together?

SG: Sure, Juan and I have known each other for about a dozen years, we were both faculty at Harvard. He was in the business school and created the life sciences program there, and I was in genomics and DNA but he was really at the interface where business intersects with DNA, and I was in a place where DNA intersects with human health and things like that. We both left Harvard to pursue entrepreneurial careers and eventually started a venture fund together, where we decided that the best way to change the world for the better was to bring like-minded pioneers and entrepreneurs together who see the future of science, and find near term opportunities with appropriate funding to make new antibiotics and all kinds of things to help the world. In putting the book together Juan and I would talk frequently with our friends and others about the real advances that were going to change the way the 21st century unravels. Juan wrote a previous book called As The Future Catches You which really pointed out that DNA and life sciences would be the driver of global economic fortunes and misfortunes in the current century the same way physics, chemistry, and IT did in the last century.

MS: It sounds like it’s the new frontier for science and human medicine, and you have access to some of the most radical thinking and some of the most radical ideas that are out there. A frequent theme that occurs in Evolving Ourselves is that eventually the technologies that we develop today are going to promote the speciation of the human race, which is very interesting.

SG: Absolutely. It’s a bit of a leap from where we sit now to jump to speciation for most people, but for those of us who live in the microcosm that Juan and I live in it is a natural extension of the ideas that exist today. Beginning with the idea that human health is something we are trying to improve, in fact we are modifying humans through a variety of medicines, methods and procedures in ways that will make humans live longer and be healthier.

MS: I know that there are a lot of genetic diseases that we are very close to being able to treat which are caused by recessive alleles. For example, sickle cell anemia is actually an adaptation to promote resistance to malaria. If a person has one recessive allele they will be resistant to malaria, but if both alleles are recessive then they will have a debilitating illness. So we want to be able to wipe out harmful recessive alleles. Early in the book you mention that recessive traits are becoming less prevalent and this is due to things like world travel and the cultural acceptance of interracial relationships. One example is that there are now less people in the world that have blue eyes. So, is there going to be a way to weed out harmful recessive traits while retaining the traits that contribute to human diversity?

SG: Well, a smaller percentage of people now have blue eyes and that is an interesting trait in and of itself, but in terms of ways to weed out harmful traits- there will be ways, technically. Now will there be an interest in doing so? Well, it is an ethical and scientific question. So in terms of ways of modifying humans, both in your lifetime and in your future childrens’ lifetime, to eliminate bad traits, we can see forward on how to do that. The best example from where we sit today, and it gives a perspective on both the advantages of doing it and the ethical/moral implications, is the recent measles vaccine scare and outbreak. To people 50-60 years ago, getting the measles was an act of God. If you died, or ended up with brain damage, it was an act of God. Today, it is an overt choice. If you want to get a vaccine, you in fact prevent what the future holds for you in terms of measles. If you decide not to, in fact you are taking a different path forward. You will see societal influences in individual decisions, and we have to come to terms with these kinds of decisions. Now, imagine we go forward and you say “What’s the choice” on sickle cell anemia, or multiple sclerosis, or a variety of other things that may have a genetic basis to them. Well it seems pretty obvious, you want your kids to have a better life. Well how about when we get to traits like beauty or longevity? Just living a longer, younger life. Is that something that we should mandate as a society, if we had the choice? Or is that something that should be a personal choice?

MS: So this might create some kind of a divergence between people who want to accept the new technology and people who don’t.

SG: And you talked about diversity- it may be diversity of choice that we have to look at, and one of the things that I worry about is the lack of diversity, to the extent that we become a monoculture, because everybody says “you know, I wish I had blue eyes, I wish I did run marathons, I wish I did…” a variety of things that can be influenced by your genetics or by any form of foods or supplements or any things that are out there. We have a tendency today to try to become more alike and not less alike.

MS: Yeah, I think a lot of that is due to the media, and I picked up a term recently that stemmed from Niko Tinbergen’s research in animal behavior, about supernormal stimuli– which he used to manipulate animals’ behavior- and I think you see a lot of that in advertising today.

SG: Yeah, we talked about the influences- it’s really a combination of nature and nurture. In terms of the nature it’s that native biology we are born with, which as we discussed in the book has multiple genomes that are being influenced. In terms of the environment- the environment that is being thrown at us today is nothing like the environment in Darwin’s day. As a result, our ancient biological systems are going to respond to the modern world in ways that are both beneficial and detrimental, or unchanged, that we don’t understand or don’t expect.

MS: I’ve always noticed that certain things that our ancestors have watched, like running water, or clouds moving, or leaves rustling, or a campfire are very relaxing. But it seems like a lot of the stimuli we are experiencing now through screens- you know, smartphones, television, tablets- are a little overstimulating. Do you think that has any kind of effect on how people’s brains are developing?

SG: It definitely does. There’s plenty of research to show that if you just look at black and white movies from the 1930’s the camera focuses on the face for a few seconds, and it’s that pause that provides drama. Now you see millisecond changes almost between all the characters in a particular setting in high action and high speed and people have become used to the new version of how to actually pay attention to a movie.

MS: That’s interesting that you mention facial recognition. There is a great TED talk by a lady at MIT named Nancy Kanwisher. She talks about facial recognition, and how there is a particular brain region associated with that. So these stimuli certainly affect the human brain.

SG: Absolutely, and in fact there was a new talk presented at TED last week by Professor Li Fei-Fei from Stanford that talks about how they’re improving it.

MS: Wow… So we have been talking about how humans could be evolving, but let’s move on to another topic in terms of our environment and ecology. Humans are driving rapid evolution by decimating existing species, but also by cultivating new ones. It seems pretty haphazard at present. How do you think we can best direct our ecological influence, if we can at all?

SG: “Direct” is an interesting term. The book is about unnatural selection which is really human driven changes to ourselves and the planet that are altering the variety and the types of animals and plants and bacteria that exist around us. In terms of deliberate, we tend to think very locally now, in terms of what we are doing as beneficial for ourselves. We typically don’t think globally, and we don’t act globally. Global warming, for example, is a harmful thing, and we are unable to come to action on that right now. So in a local context we do alter the plants and animals around us simply by creating cities, or by treating animals with antibiotics. We have basically altered all of the species out there with this gross overuse of antibiotics.

MS: And this is affecting us. One term that I really love from the book is the concept of a hologenome, which is composed of four layers. Even when I was in school back in 2000-2003, we were taught that we just have a genome and that’s that. But there are actually layers to it: there’s the genome, the epigenome, the microbiome, and the virome. So, through antibiotics and so forth we are affecting these and creating new environments for ourselves as well.

SG: That’s right. The idea of a hologenome comes from Eugene Rosenberg and his wife Ilana Zilber-Rosenberg in Israel. it is really an integration of DNA in an environmental context. They described coral and the microbes around it that were living symbiotically and exchanging information. So we’ve extended it to say that every human is born with four genomes. There’s the DNA which is the one we know the most about, but is actually the least interesting from the perspective of the life you will live and the life your kids will live. The other three are the epigenome, which is the on and off switches on our DNA, plus the microbiome and virome that live in our intestines and on our skin. you hear about an adult who has had a tragic childhood and then suffers later in life from a disease that’s related to the stress or trauma… How does that work? How does this memory occur over 50 years of time or geography changes? It’s really the on and off switches on your DNA that are playing that role.

MS: In addition to interacting with the environment, we are also creating brand new organisms and even brand new codons, which are sending brand new genetic signals and making brand new proteins. There is a startup that we’ve learned about called Cambrian Genomics, and they are aiming to take species cultivation to the next level, where people can build their own species. In doing so, are there boundaries that we should be carefully observing?

SG: By chance, I had lunch last week with Austen Heinz, who is the CEO of Cambrian Genomics, and Austen is a very engaging and high energy individual who has developed some very powerful technology of synthesizing DNA at scale and length with high fidelity- which is really important. You don’t want to be introducing changes that you don’t understand. So our ability to manufacture DNA, and this comes back to the ways in which we do things, is actually progressing very quickly. There are very few groups in the world that are thinking on a genomic scale, in terms of what we do. It’s really going to begin in bacteria. We see George Church and Craig Venter and some others talking about algae, eukaryotic cells, even mammoths from George, or Neanderthals. In general, you have to deal with two things. Assuming it works, you first have to deal with safety, and then the ethical/moral dilemmas.

MS: Let’s talk more about the ethics, starting with how it will apply to human medicine. With the advent of genetic screening, we can begin to assess the likelihood of disease in individual people. This gives us a lot of knowledge and power, but could this result in any kind of discrimination? For example, can people be rejected from career paths or health insurance plans because of their likelihood to develop an illness?

SG: From a legal perspective, the US legislature has already dealt with this. With regard to insurance companies, health providers, et cetera, they cannot discriminate based on DNA testing, which is an interesting situation because actually consumers can get their own tests and figure out what their chances of dying early are. With regard to how fast it’s going and what the rules of engagement are, gene therapy, which is the first generation of DNA alterations in humans, aside from transplanting bone marrow – which is introducing someone else’s DNA into your body. In the case of actually altering your genetic code, there have been 2,000 human gene therapy trials performed in the world, each with say 10-50 people or more. So thousands and thousands of people have been getting genetically engineered material. We have one approved drug, Glybera, approved only in Europe today. It works very well, and this is actually going to open the gateway, so all the promise of genetics is now just beginning to be seen and Glybera is one of the very first harbingers of it.

MS: OK. So, in talking about personalized genetics, there is a very well-known company called 23andMe, and they have filed a patent for gamete donor selection based on genetic calculations. They have also announced that they are going to be developing their own drugs. Do you think that a single company should be allowed to patent processes behind genetic selection?

SG: I’ve gotten the 23andMe DNA test, in fact it is often in a package that my relatives received in the mail from me because I’m compiling a family genetic analysis. Today the idea of having your DNA analyzed for understanding your genealogy which is very straightforward. It’s interesting, it’s curious, and it’s actually united a number of people who didn’t know they were related with each other, including people who were adopted. With regard to managing diseases and other traits, that is an individual event. I know 23andMe is very cautious about what they release. The FDA has come in to mandate certain regulatory behavior, and 23andme is living by those rules. I personally think that the regulatory and ethical institutions of this country, we are talking about the US in this case, such as the FDA or even the moral and ethical guidelines of the churches, are going to steer us in the right direction, albeit slowly. I have very little concern about this in the long term, and in the short term we are fumbling our way through it like we did in the early days of the internet.

MS: Now, that is one thing that I noticed about the book that I particularly like- it’s that when you learn about new developments and technology, I think the theme of a dystopia is very popular- starting with movies like Blade Runner, or The Terminator, or most recently maybe The Hunger Games. There was another one recently called Elysium, have you seen that one?

SG: No, I haven’t seen it

MS: Oh, well all the poor people are left on Earth and there’s this utopia in outer space where they have all the cool technology, and…

SG: OK

MS: …basically, like, these poor people are trying to go up and get the technology to bring it back to Earth to help all of the struggling people. So that leads to the next question here: in terms of money and access, do you think a division of wealth will determine who has access to newer technologies? For example, in vitro fertility procedures cost $20,000, and genetic testing and egg donation for a surrogate mother can be $100,000. Do you think money is going to play a big role in determining who has access to the newer developments in medicine?

SG: It always has with new technologies. I mean, just take a look at the mobile phone, the cell phone. The first cell phones were owned by bankers and Wall Street whizzes and those were the only people who could afford them. But today, people all over the world, even in the poorest countries of the world, have a cell phone. So truly revolutionary technologies that can scale do find a way to reach the important elements of society and attain many, many uses. In the case of life science technologies, these are methods that can generally be done- not all of them, but generally- can be done in your kitchen with some simple utensils. It’s not like making a nuclear reactor or an integrated chip. It’s something that’s very simple. So access to these technological recipes is already underway with, for example what we describe in the book as the iGEM group, which is a wonderful education competition. Like the robotics competition, this is focused on genetically engineering organisms like bacteria to have beneficial uses and these organisms are created by high school and college kids.

MS: I have heard about DIY labs that are trying to bypass the whole path towards going to college and plunging into debt to get a degree. Especially with learning resources out there like Kahn Academy and so forth these are things that people can really do themselves.

SG: What iGEM and the DIY movement are doing is the same thing that computer clubs and Ham Radio clubs did in the 20th century. They are bringing young kids with interest into the field of the latest technology. In that case it was electronics, and now its biology so we are seeing clubs that will be formed, building the next generation organisms that will improve our food and improve our health in very meaningful ways.

MS: Great! I’m glad you mentioned Ham Radio because we can now switch to the topic of signal transmission and some of the new ways that researchers are wiring directly into brains to transmit information. That’s really the stuff of science fiction that you would see in The Matrix, or maybe The Ghost in The Shell… have you seen that movie?

SG: (chuckles) no, I’ve seen the Matrix but…

MS: Well that’s another one to check out! It’s from the 90’s. That movie got me into Biology.

SG: (laughs) OK…

MS: It’s crazy, but…

SG: Sounds great!

MS: Totally dystopian, also! It’s an awesome detective story too. Um… (clears throat) well anyway, let’s talk about some of these new technologies and the potential to augment human brains. Optogenetics is pretty new, not too many people know about it and I think your book might be one of the first popular culture publications to really give a detailed overview of a game-changing technology. So optogenetics is a method where a protein is manufactured inside of neurons that can take light and transform it into electricity.

SG: Right.

MS: So when you shine light into brain tissue it can produce a signal that conducts down a neuron, and this can be used to control brain activity using light. They’ve been showing that it can be used to alter thoughts and memories and it could be used therapeutically for diseases like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. But, it could also be used for less benevolent purposes. What are the best and worst case scenarios?

SG: We’re back to utopia and dystopia again! Brain science is the last frontier in terms of truly understanding and having methods that can work. The science that is going on in lower species including worms and now has migrated to mammals is showing that we can actually use lasers to not only control the brain but also to read thoughts of the brain. Getting information at single cell levels has been the biggest problem for forever in trying to understand how the brain is wired and what it does, and the ability to do that is going to finally give us the capability of interfacing computer chips and Silicon Valley technologies with the brain. How it’s going to be used remains to be seen, because we frankly haven’t pushed the technology to an optimal position to be used in humans at the moment. Obviously, in places where we’re already using electrical stimulation for human therapy like epilepsy, , having a light guided or fiber optic guided approach may be more beneficial.

MS: So you think it’s more likely that it will be deployed toward medicine before we would have anybody trying to upload advertisements into our brain?

SG: Yeah, I mean, if I want to extrapolate- certainly we like to think we are building smart robots that can go into dangerous places and find all sorts of things, but there’s nothing smarter than a small animal crawling in to a disaster area to find accident victims, and if we actually had a way to read the thoughts of the animal as it was sniffing for a human in a bomb explosion area it would be a much easier way to actually develop a system like that.

MS: That’s a great concept and one that I never really thought of, because you see so much hype about, like, Boston Dynamics building robotic dogs, but there is no substitute for an actual dog.

SG: Biological systems are very powerful and they’ve been underestimated because we’ve not had the ability to make beneficial use of some of the thoughts we’ve had around that.

MS: Hmm. So do you think that optogenetics or other cutting edge technologies like CRISPR will be deliberately stifled to assure responsible use? How could these advances be monitored or regulated?

SG: Well, CRISPR is a new area. The more general term is gene editing– i.e., to go in and alter DNA just like you would edit a document using your word processor to remove a word globally or to change a word from one word to another. This is a technology that came out of bacteria from yogurt, reengineered to be applied to any cell- plant, human, anything- to go in and modify say the cystic fibrosis gene or whatever you’d like, to be beneficial. It’s used in animals right now and just last week leading scientists in the field called for a moratorium on use of this in humans, specifically in germ cells – i.e., sperm and eggs, while we get our ethical and moral rules in place. That will be temporary because it appears to be extremely safe, and it’s just going to be time before we set the boundaries- no different than we have done for in vitro fertilization technologies today.

MS: Well that’s very encouraging and I think that could actually lead to some cures for… oh, all kinds of things, muscular dystrophy perhaps…

SG: Yeah- the thing that I alluded to before is: curing diseases with these new technologies is always the first place and there is a reason why orphan disease is a favorite of Wall Street, because everyone wants a child to survive and have a healthy future. It is a slippery slope when you get methods that are easy to implement so that they could be used outside the purview of, say, the American regulatory agencies in other countries by people who can afford it, selecting for altered traits that may be viewed as not health related. Is living longer a beneficial trait, and should we encourage that? Well some people say yes, and some people say no. Is having blue eyes something you should be altering genes for?

MS: So ultimately, DNA and genetics is based on a code. In genetics there are four components to that code (adenine, guanine, thymine, and cytosine) but in computers there is just binary (1’s and 0’s) – it’s still a code and there is a relationship between binary and genetic code. In the book you mention something very interesting, that George Church encoded a digital file of a book onto DNA, and he replicated the molecule and presented 20,000,000 copies of the book that were all contained in a single drop of liquid. Do you foresee an eventual convergence between genetic code and binary? Is this going to become ordinary within our lifetime?

SG: So George Church is a leading geneticist in the world, he’s a professor at Harvard, he’s a friend, and he finds the time to not only do cutting edge research but also to write a book. He wrote ReGenesis and he presented Stephen Colbert, on the show, with many, many copies of this book. The idea is that a single molecule, DNA, which is only one or maybe three nanometers wide so that each cell of your body contains about six foot (2 meter) long chromosomes of DNA, is comprised of 3 billion letters of DNA code. Encoding 3 billion letters in a single cell is very straightforward when you get down to the nanometer scale. The idea of using DNA as a coding instrument works pretty well because we’ve sequenced a species of horse that was 700,000 years old, so the digital files we keep now- the floppy disk that we had just a generation ago- can no longer be read because many of them have deteriorated. So actually, storing information in DNA is a pretty reliable way to do things. Its one of the reasons life has been so resilient. But you still need ways to read it and write it and copy it and edit it. Now, the convergence of the digital and the life code is already underway. Juan and I believe that life code will be the driver of the 21st century in many applications, and the idea of the singularity as Ray Kurzweil has pointed out where machines become smarter than humans, I think, is a sliding landscape. He has predicted about 2040, I think, for that to occur. But as humans begin to adapt and evolve alongside smarter machines it’s going to be a co-evolutionary process with humans.

MS: Great- so… I’m just trying to absorb that. Um…

Both: (laugh)

MS: So, a co-evolutionary process. I kind of picked that up from the book as well, that all of the popular dystopia- and the best example is The Terminator- tells us how technology is going to rise up and conquer us. I don’t think it’s that case at all after reading your book, it’s a coevolution, and the two will merge and augment themselves.

SG: Absolutely, and we’ve had very good control as a result of physics and engineering and chemistry of inorganic or non-living materials for the last 150 years, but we have not had this same kind of ability to modify DNA based systems and that has now changed in the last 10 years. As Roy Amara has said, we tend to overestimate a new technology in the short term and underestimate it in the long term. In the case of the Human Genome Project we grossly overestimated, in the short term, what it was going to do for us. Now we are tending to underestimate it, very clearly. When you see the first gene therapy coming out, the control of the stem cells, CRISPR with gene editing, all of these things- this is only 15 years post the first draft of the human genome- life science technologies have just shown up on the scene. We are now taking control of our ability to read, write, and copy gene code in ways that are going to absolutely transform the world around us in ways that the 20th century saw computers take hold.

MS: So from your perspective, being on the frontier, it sounds like you’re pretty optimistic about things.

SG: I’m very optimistic. I mean, every single generation has seen a technology that has given it Malthusian predictions. We were going to run out of food in the mid-1800s according to the futurists then and we were going to run out of oil in the 1920s according to the futurists then. We have robots taking over or computers taking over the planet… in general, we adapt. What happens is that the existing generation is slow to adapt, but future generations are very comfortable with these things, and to date we’ve found our way, in general, through the moral/cultural morass that you can get tied up with in the predictions of dystopian societies. If you go back and look at books and movies et cetera from the past they generally predict things to be far worse than they turn out.

MS: I’m really glad to hear that, and I think you do a great job of illustrating that in the early part of the book where you write about what life was like before major advances in medicine, the four layers of which being vaccines, antiseptics, antibiotics, and antiviral drugs. Something that I think, and this is just my opinion, is that nature as we knew it was half beauty and half brutality, and I think that we are very well shielded from the brutal elements of nature now and able to observe its beauty, and we are lucky to be in that position.

SG: One of the things people don’t realize, because they watch the evening news or read the news online, is that the incidence of violence for individual humans in their daily life has fallen 100-fold in the last 500 years. Steve Pinker’s book, which we cite in Evolving Ourselves, shows how nonviolent we are as humans today relative to the past. Now, is this change simply cultural, or are there actually adjustments going on in our brains? As we live in healthier societies with plenty of access to food, et cetera, are we actually seeing biological modifications to ourselves over time?

MS: Yeah, and we’re all living longer, infant mortality rates are down, fertility is up…

SG: So, I don’t want to be 100% optimistic because there are always some bad actors out there, and there are always some unintended consequences. But, one of the things I would encourage everyone to do is stay aware of the advances, don’t be frightened by them. Get involved in the conversations because this is a future that will be determined by the people who are young today and have insights as to what’s coming.

MS: So they should be brave, and be informed.

SG: Absolutely.

MS: Excellent. So I have 3 more questions, but I want to say that early on in the book I was thinking “Boy, I need to make an index for the Futurism website, of all the great scientists that are referenced in this book” but then I realized that, at the end of the book, you’ve already done that!

SG: (laughs)

MS: So, you know, if you are reading this and you want to know more, go out and buy the book. It’s a wonderfully curated synopsis of modern scientific discovery.

SG: Just to comment briefly on that, one of the things we do is translate science into simple language in an engaging manner. We know a lot of scientists, we read a lot of science papers, and we try to make the personal stories about these people come to life, and to tell the science in absolutely lay terms, which many of these scientists themselves don’t do very well, or do horribly, and so they’re always shocked to see how simply we’ve actually transformed their work into something the world can understand.

MS: Sure, yeah, I mean- science is its own language but it needs to be related to the people, for sure. So, on the topic of some of the talented people you’ve mentioned, you also point out that one of the fundamental figures in the field of genetics, a guy named Gregor Mendel, whose work was the foundation of modern genetics, was initially ignored for decades. Well, maybe not necessarily ignored, but his work just wasn’t recognized. For decades. Now it is taught in every Biology class in the world. Can you tell us about some of today’s scientists whose work deserves more recognition?

SG: There’s many of them!

MS: Now, a lot of them are in your book, but are there any who maybe deserve a little more publicity or more attention?

SG: The thing that I would like to highlight is the transformative changes that you don’t see in the near term. It’s pretty obvious when somebody sequences the human genome that that’s transformative. But as Dean Kamen mentioned to Juan and I recently- when the first patent for the transistor was written, or a patent for any fundamental technology that changes the world, the applications that are envisioned in those first patents have nothing to do with what actually comes to fruition ultimately. When Shockley and the team at Bell Labs put together the first transistor, they didn’t know about the internet, or satellites, or any of that, but that’s all you think about today. And if you think about the technologies and the leaders in the field of life sciences that we talk about- Craig Venter, or Ed Boyden for example, I think these are transformative technologies, but the applications of their technologies 20-30 years from now may not be the things we consider revolutionary today. I would say DNA sequencing is fundamental to this field, the people who are leading the synthetic bio movement are going to transform the way things are done in terms of bacterial engineering for manufacturing, and they are not scientists who are celebrated. The transformative biology of today has become multidisciplined. As a result, for example, optogenetics needs people who can do molecular biology and also computer processing to read the laser signals that are coming out of the brain. So I don’t have anybody specific to mention, but what I will say is that the convergence of engineering and biology is likely to lead to some nearer term breakthroughs that we don’t expect.

MS: I see. So if people have unusual ideas, they should pursue them because you never really know where it’s going to lead.

SG: Absolutely!

MS: OK! So in terms of the general public, and I know this book is geared more toward people who are not necessarily trained in science, I wanted to ask: what should people of today be learning, aware of, and know to prepare for the future in order to be active participants? I’m talking about people who are educated, but not biologists, the general public… what kind of ideas would you like to see be more widespread?

SG: The thing I worry most about, particularly for young people, is that they get mis-educated by policy makers about science. Global climate change is an obvious one, where the science has taken a backseat to the policy discussions, and it’s largely the electorate who is responsible for putting people in office who say science is an optional discussion. In the world of biology, we have similar concerns. GMO food is the most obvious. I do know the people involved in the science side of that. When you take the time to get educated about it, it’s like the vaccines or in vitro fertilization that we mention in the book. The very first organ transplants or in vitro fertilizations were terrifying. But when you went about them in the right way, for the right purpose, everybody found that you could do it safely, and that’s true for so many technically oriented things. Fear that is irrational can be easily overcome with a little bit of reading and a little bit of chatting with scientists or other people like me.

MS: So this circles back to the theme of being more dismissive about the dystopian ideas, being optimistic about the future, but most importantly being brave and being informed. Adding on to what you were saying, I would, in my lifetime, really like to see people getting informed and voting for candidates who are scientifically literate.

SG: (laughs) That’s right.

MS: We don’t have to include this in the interview transcript but there is a great example of a guy giving a speech: a politician, an elected official, who is concerned about building a military base on Guam…

SG: Yeah?

MS: …because he thinks that the extra weight of the base will make the island tip over and capsize.

SG: (laughs)

MS: I am not making this up! He is talking to a military guy, and the guy has to answer this dude’s questions!

SG: Right.

MS: It is unbelievable, and I’m thinking, “These people are deciding what I can and can’t do? Are you serious?”

SG: There was a politician in the paper today, in the headlines, out of Florida saying that he was banning the term “climate change” from government documents.

MS: That is absurd.

SG: (laughs)

MS: I’m going to type that part up, and if you want to publish it or not, it’s up to you!

SG: All right.

MS: So, my final question! (taps on desk) And I want to direct this toward people who are younger and have potential and are really holding the future. To the Futurism readers who are maybe in high school, or just beginning college, or contemplating moving into science or maybe pursuing a graduate career: What advice would you give to Futurism readers who are aspiring to become involved in the science community?

SG: If you’re still in school, one of my disappointments about science education is that you never get the thrill of discovery, because every experiment you run, or everything you read about, has already been discovered. So the magic, and the fun, and the thrill of the discovery has been removed from the scientific education. To overcome that, some TV shows do overcome some of that, but I think that it’s really important to get exposure through personally meeting a scientist. I don’t know a single scientist who doesn’t enjoy or relish spending time with young people. I do it all the time. I’ve gone to grammar schools, high schools, I’m happy to Skype with a classroom or do whatever, to get people energized about what the thrill of discovery for changing the world is all about.

MS: It’s really important that you say that, because I remember a pivotal moment in my own education with a professor of mine who became more like an advisor, a guy at Ohio State named John Bruno. I was in his classes even though I was totally not qualified, and I remember going to his office hours with questions and I would always go in and say “I’m sorry for taking up your time”. He said to me: “Mike: approach me with vision, not apology. It’s part of my role as a scientist to coach and mentor you,” and I’ll never forget that.

SG: That’s a great quote! In the book I think we bring to life some of the personalities of people like this, and how all scientists are driven by one thing: curiosity and the thrill of discovery. If you enjoy the thrill of discovery, you’ll enjoy the book and you’ll enjoy science.

MS: I can tell you from my own scientific experiences that the coolest part of working in a lab is when you’ve done all the work and you’re waiting for the data to come back, and everybody on the team is watching for that data feed to see what happens.

SG: That’s right. That’s great!

MS: All right! Well I think that we’re at a great point to end the interview, but is there anything else that you want to mention, or add on, or questions you wanted to ask me? Anything in general that you’d want to say to our audience?

SG: Just to reemphasize, I really wanted this book to be very readable by young people and women. I live in a world of a lot of middle-aged men, and women, who are scientists, and the idea was to take that world and extract it in a way that’s fun to read.

MS: I think the book does a great job of that, and I certainly enjoyed reading it, and I found it to be very digestible.

SG: And also, it is available as an audio book, for those who like to jog and listen.

MS: Cool! Well we have about 15 minutes left on our hour- if you’re still available maybe we can go through the Futurism website and you can flag some posts- maybe we could even make you a profile! If you want to put comments…

SG: Let’s do it!

MS: OK! Awesome! Thank You!

SG: (laughs) Thank you. That was great, Mike.


Share This Article