Those who know me, know I am very excited about this next interview. Today’s Guest Star received a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship from MIT, is a member of the board of editors of, writes the very popular Anti Gravity column for, and hosts the Science Talk and 60 Second Science podcasts of a certain magazine…
Kristi: Here he comes!! (Steve walks by on busy NYC street) Steve Mirsky from Scientific American!!
Steve Mirsky: (smiles, nods, heads for coffee shop)
Steve Mirsky: And Pi day.
Kristi: No, thanks. I’m on a diet.
Steve Mirsky: I’m sorry, have we met?
Kristi: (shakes Steve’s hand vigorously) Kristi. How Did You Get There.
Steve Mirsky: Steve. I walked. Look, is this a poll or something? I’m sorry, but I just have enough time to grab a coffee.
(Steve smiles good-bye, enters coffee shop)
Kristi: Great idea! (follows Steve inside, chattering) I can’t believe I’m interviewing a REAL Scientific American. Are you as excited as I am?
Coffee Shop Kid: Coffee?
Steve Mirsky: Yea, thanks.
Kristi: In fact, I’m introducing a new category in your honor. Literary, Arts/Music, Fashion, Kristi Gets Fit, and now– Kristi Gets Smart.
Steve Mirsky: (suddenly notices that annoying chatter was Kristi, who’s still behind him) Wait – you mean I agreed to do an interview…? With you?
Kristi: Just a second ago. I said, “Are you as excited as I am” meaning about the interview, and you said, “Yea, thanks” meaning for inviting me to be interviewed on your amazing blog because it’s the funniest thing ever, in fact I’m hoping to get humorous tips from you for my Anti Gravity column.
Steve Mirsky: Really? hm… (thinks this may be the perfect follow-up piece to ‘Out of This World, One UFO Expert Says That Aliens Don’t Get Around Much Anymore, But What If That’s Just What They Want You To Think?’*) …Sure, why not.
Kristi: Great! Before we start I take mine black, one sugar.
Steve Mirsky: Oh. (reluctantly hands over own coffee)
Kristi: You’re not having any?
Steve Mirsky: (smiles politely) I’m trying to cut down.
Kristi: Wow, what an inspiration – me too! (tosses fresh coffee in trash) So tell us what you do as an editor and columnist at Scientific American.
Steve Mirsky: (KNEW he should’ve brought more cash!) Well, I go to editorial meetings where along with the other editors we decide what to put in the magazine, what articles to commission, which ones to actually publish once they’re written… and I make trouble when I can.
Kristi: Make trouble meaning in your “allegedly humorous” Anti Gravity column? How long have you been writing that?
Steve Mirsky: Since December 1994, and I became a Scientific American staff writer in late 1997.
Kristi: This whole Anti Gravity is extremely popular with Scientific American readers. How do you keep your feet on the ground?
Steve Mirsky: Well thanks, I have fun with it. I like to write it like a jenga tower. If you take one piece out it will fall apart, drives my editors crazy!
Kristi: Do these crazy editors refuse to believe in Gravity, too, or is it just you who’s anti gravity?
Steve Mirsky: Wait – do you mean Gravity as in seriousness or The Law of?
Kristi: The Law?! What did they tell you? Cause I didn’t do it.
Steve Mirsky: (suspicious) Do what?
Kristi: (wide-eyed) What? …do you like most about being a science journalist?
Steve Mirsky: (decides to let that one slide) The big thing for me is that I’m always learning something new. It’s like always going to school and having a term paper due, which for a lot of people is the worst possible fate they can imagine, but for some of us it’s actually fun. And in my column I get to perform a little, get to be a little bit of a ham.
Kristi: Where did you get your inspiration for that?
Steve Mirsky: I watch a lot of TV—
Kristi: (imagines room full of scientists eating popcorn, watching narrated Earth Science programs from the 70s) Oh?
Steve Mirsky: I really like comedy. I like sitcoms, I like Mel Brooks, Seinfeld, the Marx Bros. There’s a wonderful writer named Jean Shepherd, who wrote the now classic A Christmas Story, and another terrific humor novelist named Peter De Vries. Also, the great Donald Westlake who wrote The Dortmunder Caper Comedy Crime books, all these people inspired me. I was a wise cracking little bastard always.
Kristi: I’m sure all the wise cracking little bastards out there are dying to know how they too might become as successful as you. Can you give us an idea of the path you took?
Steve Mirsky: Going backwards it all makes perfect sense, but going forward it looked haphazard as hell.
Kristi: Either direction will do.
Steve Mirsky: I wanted to be an actor and went to acting school. But after I did some professional theatre, I wanted to be a chemist.
Kristi: You must’ve had great chemistry with your acting partners. (snort) GET IT?
Steve Mirsky: (blank stare, sound of crickets chirping) Anyway, after acting school I enrolled in college as a freshman and the chemistry professors were really good. They were funny, loved baseball, so I decided to major in chemistry.
Kristi: Baseball + comedy = chemistry. I’m Getting Smarter by the minute!
Steve Mirsky: (Thinks Einstein might say it’s relative)
Kristi: What happened next?
Steve Mirsky: After graduation I attended grad school at Cornell, which was where I happened to see an announcement for a summer Science Journalism Fellowship through the American Association for the Advancement of Science. I’d always liked writing and performing, so when I was awarded the Fellowship they put me in a TV station. Then, after completing my Masters degree, I left Cornell to work at the TV station, which opened some doors.
Kristi: And people say TV is bad for you! Then what?
Steve Mirsky: I was inspired by Jean Shepherd, a famous short story writer who also did a lot of radio. On his show, The Brass Figlagee, he had no guests or calls from listeners. He would just talk for 5 hours. So I got a job in radio in Oneida, NY.
Kristi: Why did you leave radio?
Steve Mirsky: I was tired of getting up at 3:30 in the morning. I also wanted to live in a more cosmopolitan environment, so I moved to NYC, where I got a lot of print work. I found that I liked working alone for extended periods. I like research, putting it on paper.
Kristi: And hosting the podcast?
Steve Mirsky: After I’d been writing for Scientific American for almost 10 years on staff and longer as a freelancer, the management decided they wanted a podcast presence. They looked through the staff and saw that I had radio experience.
Kristi: And now you’ve interviewed everyone from Nobel Laureates to Alan Alda. Can we listen to them?
Steve Mirsky: Yes. We have over 200 of the weeklies archived on our website, which we started in February 2006, and just under 900 dailies published, started in September 2006.
Kristi: What an impressive body of work. Any life lessons you’d like to share?
Steve Mirsky: Be ready to wind up doing something you didn’t think you were going to do. There are people you meet, or things that you stumble on which may change your career or even your life trajectory. Take full advantage of everything you have at your disposal. You don’t want to be in a row boat, but a sail boat, so you can track your path to some degree, but still have the wind to blow you somewhere new or unexpected.
Kristi: One last question, how can such an easy going, good-natured guy who’s as smart as you are, be Anti Gravity?
Steve Mirsky: (confused) Not the law?
Kristi: The Law?! Yikes, I gotta go. Thanks so much for the interview, Steve, and as always – Thank You For Playing!!!
* “Out of This World, One UFO Expert Says Aliens Don’t Get Around Much Anymore, But What If That’s Just What They Want You To Think?”, p. 105, Anti Gravity, (the book) Allegedly Humorous Writing from Scientific American, by Steve Mirsky. (For a real laugh I highly recommend Anti Gravity the column, and the book)
© Kristi Thompson 2010
(Originally Posted March 15, 2010)