journalist + Editor

Kat McGowan



I’m a journalist and editor in California focused on medicine, science and other good stuff. Some of my most recent features were for Audubon, Popular Science, Scientific American, Wired, and Aeon (scroll down for more).

I believe the zone where science, politics, business and power connect is a place where journalists belong. I’ve recently written about the icky little secret in the booming cell-based meat business; how other people make money off your medical data; and how new drugs for cystic fibrosis save people’s lives—for $259,000 a year.

As project editor, I organized and stage-directed the 2019 and 2018 Grist 50s, which celebrate the smartest, most inspiring up-and-comers in sustainability. Features I edited for the autism news website Spectrum in 2016 and 2017 won multiple awards for excellence from the Association of Health Care Journalists and the National Institute for Health Care Management. I also edit as a consultant for Neo.Life, the Stanford Social Innovation Review and other publications (see more on editing page).

In years past, I was a special projects editor at Discover, senior editor at Psychology Today, reporter at GenomeWeb, and senior editor at a scrappy little investigative newsmagazine in New York City. For many years I was also a flower-grower and board member at the best community garden on the lower East Side of NYC. (Current emeritus role: User Experience Digital Ninja At Large).  

I also volunteer at the wildlife rehab center Wild Care, mostly feeding baby birds (specialty: corvids) and spend as much time outside as I possibly can.


Round about the accredited and orderly facts of every science there ever floats a sort of dust-cloud of exceptional observations, of occurrences minute and irregular, and seldom met with, which it always proves less easy to attend to than to ignore. –William James

Kat McGowan


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The Social Network

Audubon, Winter 2018 For flocking birds, friends mean survival. A team of Oxford scientists are spying on the social networks of birds, hoovering up data that would make Facebook blush—and discovering the universal rules of friendship.


How Much is Your DNA Worth?

Neo.Life, September 2017 The price of DNA sequencing is falling. The value of the data is increasing. The result: Some new companies will pay youor give you something goodfor access to your data. Can the DNA-for-dollars business model work?

Brain-invading tapeworm that eluded doctors spotted by new dna test

Scientific American, June 2017 For years, the man kept coming back to the hospital with blinding headaches, his face partly paralyzed. Finally, a new DNA-based test caught the culprit: A worm in his brain.

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When Pseudosex Is Better Than the Real Thing

Nautilus, November 2016 For a long time, biologists didn’t want to talk about parthenogenesis: Having babies without having sex. It seemed to break all the rules of evolution. Now, a few adventurous researchers are finding that this bizarre form of sex is quite effective.

Our Medical Data Must Become Free

Backchannel, February 2016 Why is it so difficult to get your own health data—and how do so many other people make money off of it? Meet the data dissidents: a young man with cancer who dissected his own brain tumor, then built a web site to host all his data. A mother who unearthed her baby’s mystery illness in his medical files. A security expert who can't trust the code that runs her own pacemaker.

The Clean Meat Industry Has a Dirty Little Secret

Neo.Life, November 2018 Cell-based meat developers promise immaculate food. But the reality so far is not quite so pristine; manufactured meat relies on serum, hormones, even antibiotics. Can these startups clean up the act?

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One Test May Spot Cancer, Infections, Diabetes and More

Scientific American, September 2017 Sequencing the short scraps of DNA floating around in your blood could become a stethoscope for the future, detecting mystery infections, tiny tumors, maybe even strokes and autoimmune disease.

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A Radically Simple Idea Will Let Us Catch Cancer Before It’s Cancer

Backchannel, December 2016 Some of the greatest minds in cancer research now say the same thing: It's time to stop fighting the war on cancer, and stop the disease before it starts.


welcome back, otters

Bay Nature, Fall 2016  These sneaky little carnivores were wiped out in the San Francisco Bay decades ago. Without any help or protection, they've quietly come back. Will they stay?

Prenatal testing is about to make being pregnant a lot more stressful

Quartz, March 2016 New genomics-based non-invasive pregnancy tests promise peace of mind. But as the tests add more and more extremely rare conditions, their accuracy plummets. Expecting mothers are left baffled and worried about the confusing results they get.

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Seven creatures with skills that easily beat humans

Popular Science, spring 2018 (cover story): Crows beat kids on puzzles; chimps master tools; bees know what they don’t know. Animal cognition science reveals that no matter what a human can do, there’s probably a critter that can do it better.

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A new finding raises an old question: Where and when did life begin?

Popular Science, September 2017 While origins-of-life researchers still fight about how life got started, they now agree upon when: Very very early. The implication: Life is quick and easy—and it just might be everywhere.

More research volunteers are getting their medical test results. Should we cheer — or worry?

Stat News, December 2016 People who volunteer for medical research provide buckets of data, but they can’t access it themselves. An unlikely mix of grassroots activists and big pharma pioneers is changing that equation.

Meet the Bird Brainiacs: American Crow

Audubon, March-April 2016
Urban ecologist John Marzluff is one of the world’s foremost experts on the minds—and brains—of crows. How can these birds remember individual people for so many years? Why do they hold funerals? And what’s with the Cheetos, anyhow?

This Scientist Might End Animal Cruelty—Unless GMO Hardliners Stop Him

Mother Jones, Sept-Oct 2015 Scott Fahrenkrug and his startup Recombinetics are using gene editing to make farm animals’ lives better. He believes biotech can create healthier piglets, more contented cows, and cheerier chickens. Will anti-GMO activists crush his hopes?



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