I have always been fascinated with the idea of a miraculous healing. Partly this was due to my upbringing in Christian Science, which relies almost totally on prayer to heal. Reading a list of speakers at a brain imaging conference, I recognized a fellow Christian Scientist from my days at a religious college in southern Illinois. His topic was the power of placebo.
A native of the San Francisco Bay area, he now lives in Mexico. What led you to the story?
Anyway, I went to a conference of brain scientists as a journalist and saw someone I knew from the Christian Science community delivering a lecture on placebos. Really, it was like seeing a recovering Catholic deliver a lecture on guilt.
It was the perfect connection for me, finding that there is this science connected to this big part of my childhood. I got hooked on the topic and wound up going to a placebo conference in Europe. For a long time placebo studies were a little fringe-y, but there is now a younger generation bringing in some very hard science.
In 20 years it might not be as much fun. How much difference was there between your query and your finished article? My editor at Discover was Pam Erik vance science writers, and I could not have done this story without her.
I was following this very new stuff about placebos, and she was able to bring in the discovery and history of endorphins. She had covered that herself once and was able to put this new stuff into perspective. It was a lesson in how we need to bring young writers and older editors together.
Can you talk about how you turn fairly dense science into narrative? I always try to focus on what readers really want to hear. I track this at parties with people who have had a lot of drinks: How can I get that person interested for minutes in this great stuff?
I practice a lot with people verbally and see what captures their interest, then give up on the rest. And I look for characters.
Are there things you always do when reporting and writing a story? Because when I talk to them, I need to be able to spot the bits that are important to the story. You say on your website that being a science groupie is the best job you can imagine, especially in Mexico.
But Mexico is an amazing place to work. I did a story on blue-footed boobies, and the science was phenomenal and would have been reported all over the place if the scientist had been in the U.
But no one heard about it, because he was from Mexico. That happens a lot. The same passions are here, the same bizarre behaviors exist among Mexican scientists that interest me in all scientists.
I met one Mexican scientist who did anti-venom research, and he loved venomous creatures. He had pet Gila monsters at home. Scientists are quirky everywhere!
I feel I have an open canvas here and am bringing attention to a place that gets a lot of negative press, some of it deserved and some not deserved.“The Cross-Border Science Journalism Workshop was a sorely needed opportunity for those of us on the northern side of the border to learn from our counterparts down south,” said Tiffany Fox, public information representative, the .
Erik Vance is an award-wining science writer based in Mexico City. His eclectic tastes keep him bouncing between archeology, neuroscience, psychology, conservation, and occasionally plate tectonics. But mostly he likes writing about the people in science – those who do it, control it, and are directly affected by it.
Erik Vance. Science writer Erik Vance wrote about vaquitas, threatened porpoises in the Sea of Cortez, in the August issue.
He lives in Baltimore, Md. THE CURIOUS SCIENCE OF YOUR BRAIN'S ABILITY TO DECEIVE, TRANSFORM, AND HEAL Erik Vance National Geographic, November 8, , $ ISBN ; ISBN Vance reports: I have always been fascinated with the idea of a miraculous healing. Erik Vance is a science writer who cover the environment and the brain.
His recent book, Suggestible You, is about the power of the mind to affect the body. Erik Vance, a decorated freelance science journalist and author, will be the spring Science Writer in Residence at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
Erik Vance Vance has written for The New York Times, Nature, Scientific American, Harper’s, National Geographic and .