Biography

I have been researching, writing and consulting on science and development for 20 years, particularly in the fields of psychology and behaviour. For six years I was senior editor at New Scientist magazine and am still a consultant there. I specialise in social behaviour in a whole range of environments from offices and organisations to explorer teams and terrorist groups. I have studied conflict, reconciliation and trauma in the Palestinian Territories, Israel, Jordan, Iran and Turkey. My articles have appeared in New Scientist, Huffington Post, Nature, BBC Future, Slate, Prospect, The Observer, The Daily Telegraph, The Times, The Financial Times, The New York Times, Utne Reader, GQ, USA Today and elsewhere. Currently I am writing a book about the psychology of getting lost, how our brains make cognitive maps that allow us to find our way and why they are crucial to so much of our cognition and functioning (to be published by Macmillan in 2018/19).

I work regularly as an editor and consultant for businesses and agencies in the marketing, science, education and development sectors. Recently I was contracted to the Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of science, researching and advising on social science policy for the Egyptian and Qatari governments. Other clients include the International Institute for Environment and Development, LEAD International, the Crowley Institute, Weber Shandwick and the journals Nature and Research Fortnight.

I’ve written a couple of books – The Power of Others (Oneworld, 2014), on the many ways in which our behaviour is shaped by those around us, which won the British Psychological Society 2015 book of the year award; and Way Out West (McClelland & Stewart, 2001), a travel biography about the settling of the Canadian prairies.

The most memorable bits about my job so far include interviewing Israel’s chief interrogator (and, unbeknownst to him, some of his ‘clients’); studying protest dynamics during the Egyptian revolution; being shot at in Gaza while researching a story for New Scientist on conflict psychology; meeting the Dalai Lama; propping up the bar with Philip Zimbardo of Stanford Prison Experiment fame; discussing empathy and compassion with Desmond Tutu; talking philosophy of science with Muslim clerics in the Iranian holy city of Qom; listening to a leader of Hamas try to justify suicide bombing; talking to David Attenborough about his love of science; and interviewing Hussein al-Shahristani, now deputy prime minister of Iraq, about how he survived 10 years of solitary confinement after falling out with Saddam Hussein.

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I have worked on several projects in the Middle East. In the 2000s I spent some time in the Palestinian Territories and Israel researching, interviewing and writing on the psychology of hate and reconciliation, making around a dozen trips there, and also travelling to Iran and Jordan. More recently I spent four months in Egypt, either side of the 2011 revolution, as lead author of a Royal Society report on Egyptian science and development, and then worked on a similar project in Qatar.

Related to my research in psychology, I’ve recently founded a web start-up called 21Pictures which applies some of the principles of social psychology to online dating. In another life, I’m a songwriter in the pop/folk genre, have played in a succession of bands, and enjoy some (very limited) success selling my songs for commercial use (click here to hear them).

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