It’s good to collect Ph.D.s—people who have them, not the degrees themselves—to make yourself look smarter at cocktail parties.
“Oh yes,” I’m able to say, “my recent acquaintance, the good Dr. Elrick, was just telling me how sulfur content is largely dependent on both thickness and composition of overlaying layers of gray or black alluvial shale.”
Or: “The right honorable Dr. Trinkle said to me most amusingly just yesterday over corned beef, ‘Churm, my colleagues and I have discovered that island shape controls magic-size effect for heteroepitaxial diffusion....’”
Listeners are often so stunned with admiration by my knowledge-by-proxy that they must excuse themselves to get more punch.
But Dr. Benjamin R. Cohen will always be ol’ Ben to me, since we first met at McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, where he’s written innumerable things including, most recently, dispatches from his Smithsonian Fellowship at the National Museum of American History. Ben also writes for The Morning News and The Believer, where he’s interviewed Rebecca Solnit and Michael Pollan. He’s the co-author, with David Ng, of the popular Seed Media science blog The World’s Fair.
His new book, Notes from the Ground: Science, Soil, and Society in the American Countryside—a study of the cultural conditions that led to science and agriculture first coming together in the U.S.—is available from Yale University Press and is on my nightstand for the semester break.
Obviously ol' Ben has many interests and a talent for crossing the academic-popular bridge. As an Assistant Professor at the University of Virginia, he's passing those along to a new generation, and four of his students have a very interesting project going at the moment, having set out to determine if it’s possible to eat sustainably at UVa.