Welcome to today’s bucket of eels. I’m Rose. Let’s pull out some eels, shall we?
Today’s eel: every edition of this newsletter is named after an eel. Today’s is the Gymnothorax javanicus, or Giant moray eels. You might think that moray eels are one species, but in fact moray is the family (Muraenidae) and there are 200 different species of moray eels out there. The one you probably imagine, when you hear “moray eel” is the big, mostly green one. That’s Gymnothorax javanicus, the Giant moray eel. And they are truly giant! They can grow to 9.8 feet long, and weigh up to 66 pounds. Absolute units, these eels.
There are many cool things about Gymnothorax javanicus but here’s my favorite thing: they cooperate with groupers to hunt. According to some research done in the Red Sea, groupers and Giant morays have a whole coordinated hunting routine they do. First, the grouper spots some prey hiding in a crevice. Being a big fish, the grouper can’t squeeze itself into these small spaces, so it goes and looks for its buddy, a Giant moray. When the grouper finds a moray, it does a little head wiggle and find swish, basically saying “I spotted something tasty!” The moray then follows the grouper through the reef, to where the poor little fish hiding out. When they’ve arrived, the grouper does another head wiggle and fin dance, and the eel strikes. If the eel misses, and the fish escapes out of the reef, bam, the grouper is there to collect. Here’s a clip of the odd couple in action. SO COOL!
Current status: Flash Forward just returned! I spent most of yesterday in a panic because something was wrong with the audio and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what it was. My friend Mike, the genius that he is, figured it out and saved the day. Mike makes a podcast about sounds called Reasonably Sound, which you should absolutely go listen to because it’s really good.
A few other announcements!
NEW MERCH! I’m really excited about the new merch on offer at Topatoco. New shirts! Trophies! Cool weird stuff!
NEW PATREON TIERS! $5+ Patrons now get a BONUS EPISODE to go along with every regular episode. $7+ Patrons get access to a book club! Plus all the regular past stuff!
I talked about my favorite television show, BBC’s Fake or Fortune, on this episode of FAVES, a podcast about all our favorite stuff.
Stuff I’m reading/enjoying
Listen to Christie Aschwanden talk about her new book, Good to Go, on the Longform Podcast. Even if you don’t care about sports or athletic recovery, Christie is one of the best journalists out there working on statistics, and belief. “I think every writer has this sort of obsession in a story that they write over and over in different forms. For me, it’s about belief and how do we decide what to believe. How do we choose what evidence is credible? How do we make those decisions?”
I always enjoy reading stuff from the Disability Thinking reading list.
Gender Reveal is a great podcast featuring interviews with the most interesting thinkers about gender out there, and hosted by the kind, smart and gracious Molly Woodstock. Listen to this one, with Matt Lubchansky, who draws the images for every Flash Forward episode!
This pun generator will absolutely be used for future Flash Forward episode titles.
I’ve been hard at work at this season of Flash Forward, and I want to pull the curtain back a little bit on something that’s been bugging me. One of the things that’s really important to me – in fact one of the things that I think makes Flash Forward special – is including a diversity of voices as experts on the future. This is easy to do when I think about it comparatively. To be better than most futurist coverage, all I have to do is talk to literally any not-white-men. But I don’t just want to be better by comparison, because that bar is horrifyingly low. I want to offer a vision of the future that is truly inclusive.
To that end I’ve been tracking the diversity of the voices on Flash Forward for the past few years. At the end of Season Three I published my data. The show has always been balanced when it comes to gender, often skewing more towards women’s voices. But when it comes to racial diversity, I wasn’t quite where I wanted to be. In Season Three, my experts were 70% white and 30% people of color, and in the blog post about the season I pledged to change that ratio by 10%, shooting for 40% voices of color on the show. I failed. Season Four was a little better, but I had only managed to increase the voices of color on the show by five percent, not ten.
This season, I’m once again shooting for that 40% number. And once again, I’m failing. For this little mini-season of five episode (which, again, launched today!) I’m currently at 32% not-white experts.
I say all of this not to try and walk back my target of 40%, I’m still committed to trying to make that happen. I say it because I want to push back on a narrative I hear a lot at talks about diversifying sources, which is that it’s easy. Sometimes, on these panels or at these talks or even just in conversation with writers and scientists, folks will say something like “it’s not that hard! Just reach out to different people!” And often in those situations I nod, and agree, and say “you just have to TRY.”
There is some truth to this, I think. There are lots of reporters who could stand to just try. There are lots of reporters who simply go to the same sources over and over, who don’t even think about the balance of their stories, and who really could vastly improve their work by literally just trying a tiny bit harder. But once you start trying, you’ll find that it’s actually not as easy as people say. Folks of color are underrepresented in the sciences, which literally means there are fewer of them. In some fields, there are hardly any at all. I have an episode coming up that’s about materials engineering, and let me tell you there are precious few not white men who publish papers in that field. Plus, many of the women (and particularly women of color) in these fields have to be judicious and careful with the kinds of press they do.
For this current season, I’ve been tracking who says yes and who says no to interviews. I almost always reach out to women of color first for every episode, and so far 60% of them have declined. 40% of those women have sent me to their white male coauthor or colleague. For comparison, only 30% of white folks I’ve asked for an interview (regardless of gender) have declined to do one. I want to be clear: I do not judge anybody who says no. Everybody is navigating their own tangled web of politics and optics. But the data is interesting, given the narrative that actually it’s easy to balance out your sourcing, if you just try harder.
But what I really want to say about this narrative of “it’s actually not that hard,” is that it doesn’t matter. And in fact, arguing that it’s easy devalues how important it is. Diversifying your sources is, in some cases hard, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. Diversifying your sources is worth working hard at, because it makes your work better. And I worry a little bit that by saying “oh it’s easy” we’re giving folks who don’t actually recognize the value of that work an out. Once it becomes not easy, it drops off the table, and they go back to their regular sources. I’d love to see a more honest evaluation of source diversity — one that recognizes that even if it’s harder, it’s worth doing. And for Flash Forward, I’ll keep working on it, even when it stops being easy.
p.s. if you happen to know anybody who works on open ocean farming who’s not a white person, hit me up! I am in need.
I’ve recently tried to start writing some fiction in earnest, something I’ve loved doing for a long time but never thought was accessible to me. In many ways the fictional scenes in Flash Forward came from an urge to slip some fiction into my life, under the guise of reporting. To that end, I’m trying to do some more quick flash fiction writing. Here’s a bit of something I’m working on.
Leonora Piper had long hair. Long down to her butt. It was impractical but her one frivolity. Most people had no idea. She kept it pinned up, caged in hats and an internal architecture of pins. At the boardwalk sometimes there was an artist who makes sculptures out of toothpicks — roller coasters and complicated pirate ships — and Leonora sometimes imagined that within all that hair these pins created a whole tiny world. Men walking to work carrying lunch boxes, women taking children to school, sailors navigating little ships in the sea of her hair. It was only in the bath that she ever really let it down.
In the bath her hair floated around her, like some living being. She pushed the eddies around and watched it react immediately and organically — ways she never did. It was soothing to the point of mesmerism, her hair, but you can’t mesmerize yourself. At least not fully. At least that’s what Eusapia told her. No matter how hard she tried, gazing eyes soft at the magical swarming stranger, breathing gently, she couldn’t mesmerize herself. But she could mesmerize others.
The bath was also where her hip hurts least. When she was feeling extra decadent she would place a towel at the bottom of the porcelain tub, folded into a neat little square. A saturated plinth, just soft enough to make her feel like she was floating. Almost like her hair. And the deep ache in her hip would leave, mostly, for a bit. Instead of an ever present ache, it became like the after sensation of an itch, where you can’t quite remember where you scratched. Half satisfying half maddening. Like when you move your hands from a comfortable resting position and can never quite find that configuration again. But even that odd ghostly sensation was better than the ache. Leonora spent a lot of time in the bath.
Mostly nobody cared. Her children were old and headstrong enough to be off without her and her husband had no sense of time unless it was his own. Their house in Boston was small enough to keep tidy easily, and far enough from her parents that they would call before arriving. Nobody had to know how long she spent in the bath. Nobody ever asked. And so she sat and gazed in the middle distance nd thought about hypnosis and hair and old ghosts until the water was cold and her hands no longer looked like hers.
This was the worst part. The hands. She learned early not to look at them. They terrified her. Like she had dozed off and woken up in someone else’s body. Someone old, maybe dead, at the bottom of a bog or a slow moving river. The hands once sent her over, out and off into the darkness, and she wound up curled and covered in towels in the corner of the bathroom for half a day, convinced he was a ghost or an intruder of some kind of in between.
Leonora had a few friends. They made lunches for one another and complimented the tidiness of each others houses and gossiped about the neighbors and the horrible smell that always came from the laundromat on Wednesdays. They talked about children a little and husbands even less. They ate sandwiches and traded opinions about wallpaper. Leonora felt like she barely knew them. On good days she assumed they too were roiling inside. On bad days she assumed it was just her, and that these women never felt like a layer of wallpaper that had been wet and covered with a new one, but could still hear the goings on in the room, muffled through the paste and paper. Eavesdropping on normal life, flat and wet and hidden. They never showed any signs of weakness. Then again, neither did she.
That’s all for this bucket! Thanks for reading! I will leave you with this terrible photoshop thing I did for a friend that involves a Giant moray. I refuse to explain this.