DQ Blog


JANUARY 16, 2021

     Did I say holy goodness? Holy crap. What a year. I've got scant appetite for describing what it's been like for me, because chances are it was worse for you, and I honor that. Difficult for everybody, but my family and most of my friends have been lucky and blessed so far, and for that I'm grateful. Also, for any of those of us who make our living in part from explaining viruses, it has been very busy. So busy, I've neglected this blog, saying what I've been able to say in other contexts, journalistic (see the links to the left) and Twitteroid. Now I'm starting to get caught up and perhaps I can resume making the occasional post here, on what I've been learning—by sedulous reading of scientific articles, interviewing scientists, and on the wind—about Covid-19 and the nefariously complex, agile virus that causes it, SARS-CoV-2.

     There are other things that bear commenting on also. My friends Bill Kittredge, Brian Persha, and Barry Lopez all died within recent months, and those losses leave gaps. I will comment on them, as I have opportunity, elsewhere. Barry was like a brother to me, an elder brother—and if that were the case, I guess Peter Matthiessen, gone also these few years, felt like my uncle. I should be so lucky. But when I think of it: If Barry had been my elder brother, I probably could never have become a writer—it would have been too daunting, following in his steps. I would have had to turn aside into one of the only other plausible careers for which I was suited: a circus clown or a herpetologist.

     I miss them, all three.  You should read Bill, read Barry. And if you ever have a chance to lay hold of some of Brian's artistic pottery, do. You'll know it by his profund appreciation of the shades of blue.



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MAY 1, 2020

So here we are, amid a global pandemic of a disease called COVID-19, caused by a virus known as SARS-CoV-2. It’s terrible, and many people are suffering—suffering the disease, and suffering economic and social hardships related to the shutdowns necessitated by the disease. I’m relatively lucky: self-isolated with my wife, our two dogs, our cat, and our python, and all six of us are accustomed to working from home.

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Many journalists, and some of my friends, have been asking me: “Were you surprised when this began?” I wasn’t surprised. Others have asked: “How does it feel to be prescient?” (My first thought: I'd rather be wrong.") Anyway, I wasn’t prescient; I merely listened carefully to a select group of disease scientists, ten years ago, while I was researching my book Spillover (W.W. Norton, 2012), and I reported their well-informed predictions about the prospects of a “Next Big One,” a punishing global pandemic. What they told me back then, if you assemble their bits of wisdom and foresight into a single consensual summary (as I tried to do, over the course of the book), was this: Yes, there will be a Next Big One. It will be caused by a virus. That virus will be new to humans, coming out of a wild animal. What kind of animal? Very possibly a bat. What kind of virus? Very possibly an influenza virus or a coronavirus. Under what circumstances would the virus get into humans? Some situation of close, disruptive contact between humans and wild animals—such as in or around a wet market in, oh, for instance, China.

In early January of this year I was making plans to depart for Tasmania, Australia’s island state, for three weeks of research on Tasmanian devils and a strange form of contagious cancer that has been killing them wholesale in recent decades. This research was for a book that I’m writing about cancer as an evolutionary phenomenon. As I readied for the trip, I must have missed the earliest emails from ProMED, an infectious-disease reporting system to which I subscribe, about “an unidentified

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