Recently, I attended a science museum fundraiser. It was an awkward experience for me: I don’t enjoy conversations that can be squeezed into two minutes in a loud venue, and my economics training has left me with strong feelings about the relationship between commercial enterprise and charity. But my spouse was the event’s keynote speaker, so I donned a suit and tried my best to smile and be nice.

During her speech, Kirstin asked everyone to draw instructions for making toast. She wanted to show the broad diversity of STEM-type thinking that people use in their day-to-day lives, even if they don’t (yet!) identify as a scientist or engineer.

Ah, toast. I’d just read Rob Dunn’s excellent A Natural History of the Future, which includes a charming (and chilling) anecdote about breadmaking. Bread needs only flour, water, salt … and a microscopic starter of yeast. In healthy ecosystems, yeast...

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