Carney contributes stories on a variety of medical, technological and ethical issues to Wired Magazine, Mother Jones, Playboy, Foreign Policy, Details and National Public Radio. His first book The Red Market: On the trail of the world's organ brokers, bone thieves, blood farmers and child traffickers was published by William Morrow/Harper Collins in June 2011. His second book A Death on Diamond Mountain: A True Story of Obsession, Madness and the Path to Enlightenment came out in 2015.
Carney is an outspoken advocate of freelance writers and writes frequently on his blog about the struggles that freelance journalists face both in the field and navigating the business side of the profession. He is unusual in that he argues that magazines often have exceptionally high profits, and the low pay and contract terms that writers get are better attributed to exploitative business practices instead of a poor overall market for the written word. He founded the website WordRates in order to provide journalists a new way to sell and market their work.
Carney holds a number of academic and professional appointments including as a contributing editor at Wired, a senior fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University, and as a judge for the Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism. He graduated from Kenyon College in 2000 and dropped out of a PhD in anthropology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in order to pursue journalism.
He won the 2010 Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism for his story "Meet the Parents". In 2008, he was selected as a finalist for the Livingston Award for International Journalism for an article titled "The Bone Factory", he was also a finalist for the same award in 2010 for this story "Cash on Delivery" about surrogate pregnancies in India. He has been nominated for the Daniel Pearl Award from the South Asian Journalists Association three times. "The Red Market" won the 2012 Clarion Award for best non-fiction book.
The Red Market
Carney coined the phrase "The Red Market" to describe a broad category of economic transactions around the human body. Drawing on the concepts black markets, white markets and gray markets he suggests that commerce in body parts is separate because bodies are not commodities in a strict sense. Instead commerce in human bodies needs to account for the ineffable quality of life and creates a lifelong debt between the provider and receiver of the flesh. Straight commerce in human bodies disguises the supply chain and reduces a human life to its meat value. Carney calls for "radical transparency" in the red market supply chain in order to protect its humanness.
The book, The Red Market traces the rise, fall, and resurgence of this multibillion-dollar underground organ trade through history, from early medical study and modern universities to poverty-ravaged Eurasian villages and high-tech Western labs; from body snatchers and surrogate mothers to skeleton dealers and the poor who sell body parts to survive. While local and international law enforcement have cracked down on the market, advances in science have increased the demand for human tissue—ligaments, kidneys, even rented space in women's wombs—leaving little room to consider the ethical dilemmas inherent in the flesh-and-blood trade.
A Death on Diamond Mountain
A Death on Diamond Mountain examines the unusual circumstances around the death of Ian Thorson while on a meditation retreat in the mountains of Arizona. The book uses Thorson's story as a springboard to understanding the path that Tibetan Buddhism took to get to the United States and analyzes the often conflicted relationship that Americans have with the concept of enlightenment. Carney recounts the story of the death of his former student Emily O'Conner who took her life on a meditation retreat in India in 2006. Thorson was a follower of the controversial Buddhist guru Michael Roach who teaches a version of Buddhism that closely aligns with the Christian Gospel of Prosperity. Carney's book is based in part on his article in Playboy ""Death and Madness on Diamond Mountain".
What Doesn't Kill Us
In 2011 Carney travelled to meet Dutch fitness guru Wim Hof in Poland on an assignment from Playboy with the intention of exposing him as a charlatan. Hof claimed to be able to teach a meditation technique that would allow people to consciously control their body temperature and immune systems. The claims were similar to those made by Michael Roach. After a week studying the method, however, Carney "had to reevaluate everything he thought about gurus". Within a week he learned how to perform similar feats as Hof, including hiking up a snow covered mountain wearing just a bathing suit. His book, What Doesn't Kill Us, continues the journey by linking evolutionary theory and environmental conditioning with the Wim Hof Method. He interviews US Army scientists who are trying to find ways to make soldiers more effective in extreme environments, the founders of the outdoor workout movement the November Project, legendary surfer Laird Hamilton and endurance runner Brian Mackenzie. Carney ends his journey by climbing up top the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, most of the way, wearing just a bathing suit.
In 2015 Carney launched a Kickstarter campaign to found the website WordRates which he called a "sort of Yelp! for journalists". The website provides a way for freelance journalists to rate editors and magazines for how easy they are to work with. WordRates also has a dedicated section called "PitchLab" that pairs up established journalists with other writers in order to sell stories to magazines and newspapers at market rates.