How Scientists Talk About the Future of the Climate

And four other intriguing things: a double-hand transplant, a frozen food taster, transportation porn, and the Pritzker Prize.

1. The latest IPCC report on climate change takes a new approach to talking about its forecasts.

"The 2007 report was almost all about the impacts of climate change. Most of this report, and in particular most of the summary for policymakers, is about resilience and adaptation to inevitable climate change. Central to that new tack is setting climate change in a context of other risks, uncertainties and mega-trends such as poverty and social inequality, urbanization, and the globalization of food systems. What some call "climate exceptionalism" — the idea that climate change is something of an entirely different order to other threats faced by the world — has been rooted out. Here climate change is painted as pervasive, since nobody can avoid it wholly, but as usually only one among many pressures, especially on the poor."


3. A double hand transplant patient speaks.

"The first thing Lindsay Ess remembers after waking up from nearly 12 hours of surgery was being afraid to look at her hands. 'I called them the new hands,' she says, 'because they were still foreign, something new. I remember looking down and seeing purple nail polish on the thumb,' she says, 'and I was suddenly even more aware of the fact that these belong to somebody who just passed away.' Now, two-and-a-half years later, the hands are very much her own. But it hasn’t been easy."


3. The work life of a frozen food taster.

"Mike: Does this mean you were eating many different versions of the same curly fry?

"Matthew: Yes, there’d be slight variations in spices, in cooking time, in the kind of potato. We’d test them at different intervals to see how the taste changed once they were taken out of the fryer, or how microwaving them would affect their texture. One aromatic that was fun to pick out was 'cardboard'—an actual aromatic on the ballot—and to compare we had cups of water with brown paper towels in them."


4. The SF MTA photo archive.

"The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) Photographic Archive is a living archive, as well as a visual history of the city’s public transportation history dating back to the early 20th Century. Our mission is to preserve and digitize this vast collection of photographs taken by Muni and Market Street Railway photographers and includes a wide assortment of glass plate, nitrate and acetate negatives, as well as one-of-a-kind prints. These amazing images tell the story of San Francisco, its transition from a stretch of sand dunes to an internationally acclaimed city, it's rise from the rubble of the devastating earthquake of 1906 and the vital role public transportation played and continues to play in revitalizing the city. We look forward to sharing these compelling images with you and hope that you enjoy them as much as we do."


5. What the latest Pritzker Prize winner, Shigeru Ban, might mean for architecture.

"Ban's selection distills the current moment, in which the pendulum is swinging away from flashy 'icon' buildings toward socially conscious projects. Idealistic architecture students should take heart from it. But many students are equally intrigued by the sculptural forms made possible by the computer. If history and the roster of previous Pritzker winners offer any guide, the pendulum invariably will swing back toward a greater emphasis on aesthetics."


Today's 1957 American English Usage Tip:

backlog. orig. US (the large log placed in the hearth fire as a reserve), in its fig. use as reservesupport, is established in US commercial language, & is widely used elsewhere. Other est. Americanisms are backtrackbackwoods, &c.

Yes, the original backlog was a log.


From the Apologies, All Department: My link to the Smithsonian exhibit on black aviators didn't work for some reason. Here's a good link.


Subscribe to 5 Intriguing Things

An Actual Aromatic on the Ballot

Jump to comments
Presented by

Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus


CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity


Is Technology Making Us Better Storytellers?

The minds behind House of Cards and The Moth weigh in.


A Short Film That Skewers Hollywood

A studio executive concocts an animated blockbuster. Who cares about the story?


In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.


What Is a Sandwich?

We're overthinking sandwiches, so you don't have to.


Let's Talk About Not Smoking

Why does smoking maintain its allure? James Hamblin seeks the wisdom of a cool person.



More in Technology

Just In