Zimmer, who (as of next week) blogs at National Geographic and writes regularly for The New York Times, had been reading IAmAs for awhile and been thinking he’d like to try it at some point. He chose this week, he said, because he had just published two fun stories that he was already fielding questions about—one on zombie animals controlled by parasites and another on viruses that invaded our DNA.
“Reddit has somehow figured out how to make these conversations really work,” he says. “As somebody who has blogged for quite a while, I know that’s not easy. I don’t know what their secret sauce is, but they know how to make it interesting.”
Zimmer started fielding questions at 3 p.m. He took a break for dinner at 7 p.m. and returned at 8:30 for another hour and a half. There were a few questions about zombies—“Are they possible or not?” and “What zombie/infection apocalypse movies are the most realistic?”—but of the topics he suggested, tapeworms (Zimmer’s written a book on parasites) were the most popular. He fielded questions about science writing and reporting, the size of human brains, how to argue with creationists, crowdsourcing the human microbiome, his career, and science tattoos.
“I think I got a mild case of carpel tunnel from responding to so many questions that came so fast,” he wrote me the next day. “Some questions were inscrutable at first. “Have I ever eaten a corn dog?” for example. But that turned into pleasant exchanges about country fairs.”
He’s eliding, a bit, the weirdness that Reddit can involve. The person who asked the question about the corn dog had a specific aim. After Zimmer replied that he had, indeed, eaten a corn dog, the questioner said: “Good man. The editor from the New York Times who was on here honestly said he had never had one in his life. So, science writer, you need to figure out if he’s human. I forget his name, but I’m sure you’ll get on the case.”
Zimmer’s response: “Clearly, I need to lead a field trip for the New York Times staff to the Durham Agricultural Fair. We might need to have some fried dough while we’re at it.”
“I try to keep the experience in perspective,” Zimmer said. “My thread has 243 comments. PSY, the ‘Gangnam Style’ singer, has 13,770 comments.”