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David Adam is a best-selling author and an award-winning journalist, who covers science, environment, technology, medicine and the impact they have on people, culture and society. After nearly two decades as a staff writer and editor at Nature and the Guardian, David set up as a freelancer in 2019.

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About me

I got a first class degree and a PhD in chemical engineering from Leeds University in the 1990s but I always preferred writing about science to doing it. Indeed, my postgraduate supervisor once complained my thesis read like it was written by a journalist and not an academic.

"David," he said. "You have used the word catastrophic three times on the first page."

Since then I have worked as an editor at Elsevier Science, as a specialist correspondent writing across science and environment on the Guardian newspaper and as a reporter, leader writer and editor at Nature, the world's best scientific journal.

In 2014 I published a critically-acclaimed and best-selling popular science book on obsessive-compulsive disorder. My second book, a study of the emerging science of cognitive enhancement, was published in 2018.

I can write news, features, comment and analysis for both general and specialist

audiences - quickly, accurately and with flair.

And I never miss a deadline.

Try me.

 

My writing

I have written hundreds of articles for dozens of publications across the world. Here's a selection.

A father’s fight to help his sons — and fix clinical trials

Nick Sireau’s quest to give his sons weedkiller could help thousands struggling with rare genetic conditions.

January 2019, Nature

Modafinil: the genius is out of the bottle

They’re being taken by students, scientists and surgeons, but do drugs such as modafinil really improve mental ability? David Adam pops one to find out

February 2018, Sunday Times

Weird thought-generator

How society’s fears shape OCD

April 2014, New Scientist

I do non-science stuff as well:

Driven to distraction

Every day hundreds of learner drivers flock to the quiet culs-de-sac of the Firs estate in South Woodford, north-east London. But now the residents of this L-plate dodgems have had enough. David Adam reports on how their campaign is revving up 

March 2006, Guardian

I won an ABSW Feature of the Year award for this:

Can planting trees really give you a clear carbon conscience?

Land Rover, British Gas and Coldplay are all doing it, but experts warn that the benefits of carbon offsetting may be overstated

October 2006, Guardian

Most of my recent writing has been for (unsigned) editorials in Nature. Here's one i like a lot:

Earthrise at 50

The inspiration and sense of stewardship aroused by an iconic photo of Earth from the Moon is needed now more than ever.

December 2018, Nature

 

My editing

I ran the Nature editorials pages from 2010 to 2019 and the Nature World View page from 2010 to 2017. In doing so I commissioned, edited and saw through to publication about 800 editorials written by staff journalists and freelancers, and another 350 opinion articles from external experts.

Here are testimonials from some of them:

"David edited more than 15 of my columns for Nature, and in every case he made the language sharper, the ideas more lucid and convincing.  He has an uncanny eye for the exact phrase to hook the reader in the first paragraph, and to seal the argument at the end.  He did not edit this blurb, but if he had, it would be even better."

Daniel Sarewitz, Co-Director, Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes at Arizona State University

"I have worked with David over the last 8 years.  David is insightful and knows a good piece when he sees it.  His prose and eye for detail while keeping the story entertaining and attractive are hallmarks of a good writer. He is great to work with easy going and firm on deadlines"

Rana Dajani PhD, Rita Hauser Fellow, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University

“I worked with David on two pieces and it was a great pleasure. He had a real knack for recognizing the essence of the ideas I was trying to communicate and  reframing them in a manner that amplified their power.  He maintained the spirit and style of my writing while strengthening its punch."

Jonathan Schooler PhD, Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of California Santa Barbara.

"It’s like magic! Remember those wizards that can bring order in an instant with the wave of a wand? He does that with words! And words help shape our thoughts. When I compare my original and his edited version, the changes are subtle enough that the text totally reads like mine. Except that it now reads beautifully, it’s more impactful and immaculately fits word count limits…no matter how far off from compliance it originally was. Sometimes I stare at the two versions to try to understand how he does it. Doing so it’s like getting a master class. But it’s not only his grip on the language, also priceless is his understanding on the content over such widely diverse knowledge areas.  I don't doubt for a second that you will be grateful for his magic."

Amaya Moro-Martin, Assistant Astronomer, Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore


 

My books

The Man Who Couldn't Stop

OCD and the True Story of a Life Lost in Thought

2014

Clear-sighted and eminently accessible ... a fundamentally important book that will bring a breath of fresh understanding to sufferers - as well as mental-health professionals, and family and friends of anyone who exhibits symptoms of OCD. I urge anyone to buy it. It will make you think again (Sunday Times)

A fascinating study of the living nightmare that is obsessive compulsive disorder ... one of the best and most readable studies of a mental illness to have emerged in recent years ... an honest and open and, yes, maybe life-changing work (Matt Haig Observer)

Combines a scientific account of OCD from ancient times to the most recent research with passages of tenderly written memoir (Telegraph)

The Man Who Couldn't Stop is quite simply book of the year, on living with OCD: just buy it now (Adam Rutherford)

Superb... A brave and helpful contribution to deepening our understanding of the intricate complexities of mental ill-health (The Times)

Adam recounts his journey with humour and detachment (Literary Review)

[An] engaging, exhaustively researched neuro memoir, a blend of brain science and personal history (Evening Standard)

This blew me away. Stunning (Ian Sample Guardian)

An insider's tour of the OCD brain, providing insight into the cultural and scientific evolution of how we view and treat a disorder that affects up to 3% of people worldwide (Nature)

A captivating first-person account of how a blizzard of unwanted thoughts can become a personal nightmare. At times shocking, at times tragic, at times unbelievably funny, it is a wonderful read (Focus)

The Genius Within

Smart pills, brain hacks and adventures in Intelligence

2017

A breezily written pop science book about the quest to find out about what intelligence is and how it can be boosted. (Robbie Millen The Sunday Times)

What if you could zap your head or take a pill, like Bradley Cooper in the film Limitless, and become insanely clever? Over the last decade, this sci-fi possibility has started to approach reality, and David Adam’s book is a timely prologue to the brave new world that might await us...Fascinating. (The Guardian)

While The Genius Within is hardly alone in the bookstore, it is among the best, and the least likely to make you struggle. In part, this is because it is generous with anecdotes, sharp-witted evasions of obvious conclusions and pub facts. (New Scientist)

 

My mental health advocacy


Before my book came out in 2014 I didn't talk about my OCD. Since then I haven't shut up about it. I talk to schools and charities, university students, at conferences and workplaces and speak at festivals and other events.

It's still relatively unusual for people who have experienced mental illness to be willing to stand in front of strangers and tell their story. I have seen the difference it can make, so  I try very hard to say yes when people ask or invite me to do so, so please do.

Here's a link to a YouTube video of me delivering the Keynote address to the annual meeting of the International OCD Foundation in Chicago in the summer of 2016. To 1500 people!