To know if there are aliens, we need to ask the right questions

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Are We Alone in the Universe?

Panel from “Are we alone?”, a comic written by me with art by Maki Naro. [Credit: Maki Naro (art)/moi (words)]

How can we know if life exists elsewhere in the cosmos? To answer that question, we have to place Earth — and Earth life — in the context of other worlds in the Solar System and beyond. In my latest comic for The Nib with Maki Naro, we look at the science of planetary chemistry and the conditions of habitability as we know them, with the help of Johns Hopkins astrochemist Sarah Hörst and American Astronomical Society Public Policy Fellow Ashlee Wilkins.

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Elon Musk’s plan for humanity’s survival lacks vision

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Elon Musk Isn’t All He’s Cracked Up to Be

Elon Musk cares about humanity’s survival, but his stated vision about how that survival should be achieved is not exactly inclusive or practical. My latest comic for The Nib with Maki Naro discusses why a white tech billionaire may not be the best source for such a plan, and features wisdom from DN Lee.

The first known interstellar visitor to the Solar System

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Cosmic Driftwood

What a floating rock can tell us about life in the rest of the universe

Panel from “Cosmic Driftwood”. [Credit: Maki Naro (art) and moi (words)]

Last October, we had the first known interstellar visitor to the Solar System: an asteroid named ʻOumuamua. In our latest comic for The Nib, Maki Naro and I explain how we know the building-sized rock isn’t from around here, what we know about it, and what it might tell us about life elsewhere in the galaxy.

Star Trek, quantum mechanics, and the meaning of being human (kinda)

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The trouble with teleportation

A panel from “The trouble with teleportation”, featuring me as a science officer. [Credit: Maki Naro (art), moi (words)]

Quantum teleportation is a really fascinating area of research, but it’s hampered by the name, which evokes Star Trek. The reality is trickier, and why a Star Trek-style transporter may never be possible is an interesting question in and of itself. Comics genius Maki Naro and I created a comics explainer going into what teleportation is and isn’t, with plenty of Star Trek to keep us all going.

The many challenges to science in the Age of Trump

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Panel from “Science Is Political: Don’t Let Anyone Tell You Otherwise”. Words by me, art by Maki Naro.

Science is Political

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

One of the big problems with privilege is the way it insulates the privileged from issues that are blatantly obvious to others. The political nature of science is one of those issues: privileged scientists (especially white male scientists in the United States) can pretend science is a meritocracy, and they got where they are according to their own personal merits, without any deck-stacking in their favor.

Donald J. Trump doesn’t want you to read this comic. Words by me, art by Maki Naro.

However, since the election of Donald Trump to the US Presidency, there has been a growing recognition even among the privileged that science is under threat. In my new comics collaboration with science comics artist extraordinaire Maki “Totoro” Naro, we looked at a large number of ways science is already being impacted in the Age of Trump. Those ways include the obvious—climate change—to the less-obvious for the privilege-insulated, such as anti-trans “bathroom bills” and attacks on health care. To this end, we spoke with a number of scientists from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds. Thanks to Raychelle Burks, Amanda Grennell, Lisa Manglass, Mika McKinnon, Nancy Parmalee, David Shiffman, and Emily Willingham for talking to us. Read the comic here.

Oh yes, and if you have a few spare dollars, please throw them Maki’s way.

Does thinking we live in a simulation say bad things about us?

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Panel from "Are We Living in a Simulation?", featuring Elon Musk as Link. Art by Maki Naro, script by me.

Panel from “Are We Living in a Simulation?”, featuring Elon Musk as Link. Art by Maki Naro, script by me.

I’m obviously a science writer by profession. However, I’m also a lifelong comics fan, starting from reading Peanuts before I got the jokes, continuing through He-Man and the Masters of the Universe mini-comics that came with the action figures, up to today when I read a wide cross-section of comics titles, genres, and media. So, I’ve always wanted to create my own comics, but have been hampered by my lack of drawing ability. (I know, lack of drawing ability hasn’t stopped Scott Adams, but neither has being a misogynistic jerkmobile. But I digress.)

Panel from "Are We Living in a Computer Simulation". Art by Maki Naro, script by me.

Panel from “Are We Living in a Computer Simulation”. Art by Maki Naro, script by me.

The obvious answer is…find an artist to collaborate with. I’m thrilled and privileged to announce a comics collaboration with Maki Naro, one of the better science comics artists around. I wrote and Maki drew a comic for The Nib, about a recent provocative statement tech billionaire Elon Musk made. Musk said it’s most likely that we — and our entire reality — are actually part of a simulation run by a more advanced version of ourselves. Read the comic here, to see why I don’t think this is an optimistic scenario, and why Musk may not be the most objective person when he talks about it.

He recently contributed a regular comic series to Popular Science, along with The Nib and his own long-running science comic Sci-ence. He also writes the award-winning slice-of-life comic Sufficiently Remarkable. Please throw a little money his way.