David Duncan

Author, journalist, policy director, experimental man, Conde Nast Portfolio, UC Berkeley Center for Life Science Policy
San Francisco, CA, United States

About David

Bio

David Ewing Duncan is an award-winning, best-selling author of seven books and numerous essays, articles and short stories; and a television, radio and film producer and correspondent. At UC Berkeley he is the Director of the Center for Life Science Policy and a Visiting Researcher at the Graduate School of Journalism. He is a Contributing Editor and Columnist for Conde Nast Portfolio, a Chief Correspondent for NPR Talk's "Biotech Nation", and a commentator for NPR's "Morning Edition".

His next book is Experimental Man: What one man's body reveals about his future, your health, and our toxic world (Wiley, 2009).

His most recent book is Masterminds: Genius, DNA and the Quest to Rewrite Life (Harper Perennial). He wrote the international bestseller Calendar: Humanity's Epic Struggle to Determine a True and Accurate Year (Harper-Collins/Avon), published in 19 languages, and a bestseller in 14 countries.

David also has been a Contributing Editor to Wired and Discover, and a special correspondent and producer for ABC's Nightline and 20/20. He has been a correspondent for NOVA's ScienceNow!, and a producer for Discovery Television. He is a contributor to National Geographic, Fortune and MIT Technology Review; and he was a longtime correspondent for Life. He also has written for Harper’ s, Atlantic Monthly, Smithsonian, Outside, The Telegraph, The Guardian, The Washington Post Book World, The San Francisco Chronicle, and The New York Times, among others.

In 2003, David won the prestigious Magazine Story of the Year Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. His articles have twice been cited in nominations for National Magazine Awards, and his work has appeared twice in The Best American Science and Nature Writing.

David is the Founder and Editorial Director of the BioAgenda Institute, an independent, non-profit program of events and educational initiatives that discusses and analyzes crucial issues in life sciences — which is being folded into the new Center for Life Science Policy at UC Berkeley. He has been the host of the annual BioAgenda Summit.

David's other books include the bestselling Pedaling the Ends of the Earth (Simon & Schuster), about his bicycle expedition around the world, and Hernando Soto: A Savage Quest in the Americas, called “an astonishing tour de force” by the New York Times Book Review. He wrote Residents: The Perils and Promise of Educating Young Doctors (Scribner) and Cape to Cairo: An African Odyssey (Grove Atlantic). His fiction has appeared in two anthologies. He has taught creative writing at Stanford University. He works at the San Francisco Writer’s Grotto, and lives in San Francisco.

TED Conference

TED2009

An idea worth spreading

Compassion.

I'm passionate about

Gaia, new ideas, the future, ancient history, the brain, bicycling, literature, global health, far-flung travel, deserts, and cafes.

Talk to me about

The experimental man project, the future, and your interests

People don't know I'm good at

Classical history and archeology, guitar, old maps, photography, poetry, art history.

My TED story

I have heard about TED for years and know many Tedsters, I'm very happy to be coming. I hope everyone will come and see my interview with Juan Enriquez at lunch on February 5!

Comments & conversations

26210
David Duncan
Posted almost 3 years ago
Discussing "The Science of Radical Life Extension" with TED Books author David Ewing Duncan
First, on a practical level, I have covered neuroscience as a reporter for years, and it's hard to find many mainstream or even edgy neuroscientists that believe this will happen anytime soon, if ever. We could be taling centuries. John Donoghue of Brown, who is on the leading edge of using brain implants to convert thought into operating machines, has told me that even if scientists are able to map every detail of every synapse in the brain, they may never duplicate an individual's consciousness. But even if it works, I have three problems. One is that I like the sensations of being corporeal (I might get over this, but I doubt it); the second is that unless my machine-home can defend my mind, I'm vulnerable to all sorts of natural and "real" disasters that might harm me; the third is that I don't fully trust a machine capable of hosting my mind to allow me to be me - there is a sort of Matrix/Terminator scenario that even Ray Kurzweil (a huge advocate of downloading one's mind) confesses he thinks is a serious worry.
26210
David Duncan
Posted almost 3 years ago
Discussing "The Science of Radical Life Extension" with TED Books author David Ewing Duncan
Most people have been asking about the technologies of life extension, but more than half the book is about the implication of this tech should it succeed - I have asked hundreds of people to tell me why they would want to live to age 150, or not, and unexpected tragedies is high on the list of those who have reservations about living to 150. Other reasons include the cost of living so long, boredom, and the impact on the planet with so many people not dying. (Pluses include having more time to do things, space travel, seeing what happens in the future, and more). I would love for people to buy the book and check out all of the upsides and downsides!
26210
David Duncan
Posted almost 3 years ago
Discussing "The Science of Radical Life Extension" with TED Books author David Ewing Duncan
More and more scientists are saying that stem cells will one day be used to provide fresh cells to repair tissue damaged from disease, accidents, or aging, though in most cases this is many years away. However, scientists like Anthony Atala at Wake Forest have successfully grown human bladders and urethas that have worked in humans - though he cautions that these are simpler to "build" than a heart or liver; others say something as complex as the human brain will be very hard to repair. One huge boost in stem cell tech came just 5 years ago with the invention of "Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells" (biologists have such clunky names for things) - these are stem cells that are made using any cells in a person's body. IPS cells can then be used to make any cell in the body - which are perfect genetic match with the donor. IPS cells still need some serious work to be used for regeneration or transplantation, but the potential is there.
26210
David Duncan
Posted almost 3 years ago
Discussing "The Science of Radical Life Extension" with TED Books author David Ewing Duncan
I wrote a book about this - Experimental Man! I was first tested for my DNA proclivities in 2001 for a Wired story, and since then I've had over 24,000 genetics traits identified. (Check http://www.experimentalman.com for details). So far, all of this genetic info has not told me much, since the science is still young. But I have learned a few important genetic risk factors - and more are coming in as gene markers are validated and interpreted. One's genetics will become increasingly important in predicting and diagnosing disease, though it's important to note that Gattaca was wrong - genes are not necessarily you're destiny. The role of the environment is also crucial.
26210
David Duncan
Posted almost 3 years ago
Discussing "The Science of Radical Life Extension" with TED Books author David Ewing Duncan
Infant mortality was much higher in 1900 and before, so this definitely dragged down the average. But even if you lived to 10 years old your life expectancy in 1900 was 58 years old - if you lived to 20, it was 62 (both for white males - slightly higher for women). Stats still work this way today - the longer the live, th longer your life expectancy (up to a certain point!) So we have added some years overall. What's really dramatic is how many more people are surviving to live a longer time. here is a chart of life expectancies since 1850: http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0005140.html