Best Shortform Science Writing: April-June 2018

(A Highly Subjective Round-up of Standout Science News)

Diana Crow
Jul 31, 2018 · 8 min read
A photograph of a very long fence in a semi-arid area, running toward a mountain in the background. Photo by Steve Hillebrand, USFWS. Via PixNio. (public domain)

At first glance, the immigration crisis at the US-Mexico border doesn’t sound like a science story. However, in the past few months, science and health reporters have been covering it well and often.

In this round-up alone, we have five stories about the ICE and separating children from families at the border. They include: a harrowing explainer detailing the neurological toll suffered by children ripped away from their parents by William Wan, a news story explaining why DNA testing at the border might not be such a good idea by Megan Molteni, a blistering op-ed condemning the ICE’s disregard for physical anthropology by Elizabeth DiGangi, a gut-wrenching investigative report about what goes on in the “shelters” were these children are sent by Matt Smith and Aura Bogado, and another heartbreaking investigative report documenting the risk of disease outbreaks at detention centers by Liza Gross and Lindsey Konkel.

The SciShortform Project has never chosen so many final picks centered around a single topic before. (Unless you count “Conservation” writ broadly as a single topic, which I don’t.) There were even more that didn’t make the final cut.

What struck me most about these articles, aside from their rigor and emotional impact, was how different they all are. Each has a distinct angle, and none felt redundant.

In covering the immigration crisis, the science and health reporting communities stepped up, showing not only bravery and persistence but also an immense amount of creativity in finding ways to weave science into a conversation about politics.

But there’s far more in this round-up of standout shortform science writing.

New Categories

We’ve added two new categories: Institutional (under 1400 words), which includes pieces from university magazines, outreach blogs, and press releases, and Essays & Literary (under 1400 words) for first-person narratives and experimental pieces. We hope you enjoy them!

Record Number of Nominees

This cycle shattered our previous record for the most nominations. Last cycle, we read 250. This time, we read 350 nominated pieces.

About Our Editors

This edition’s editors include: science writer and editor Alex Arreola; digital strategist and nonprofit consultant for MarTech Digital Anne Berlin; science writer Madeline Bodin; science writer Jimmy Brancho, PhD, of University of Michigan; science writer and copy editor Michael Dhar of Purch/Tech Media Network ; graduate student Jess Hudgins, currently working with Sharks and Rays Australia; NIH postdoc Aparna Kishor, MD, PhD; and me (science writer Diana Crow).

About the Round-Up Format

The stories are grouped into “Top Picks” and “Honorable Mentions” but are not ranked within those groups. Instead, the stories are in alphabetical order by the author’s last name.

As always, our selection is highly subjective and driven by serendipity and whoever decides to send suggestions via our crowdsourced nomination/submission form. The form for July-September is here.

Anyone interested in our selection criteria can check out our rubric here.

If we’ve left out short piece that you adored, please share them in the comments.

You can follow the Best Shortform Science Writing Project at @SciShortform on Twitter and on Medium.

Onward to the standout stories!

An artist’s rendering of the Opportunity rover. Image by NASA/JPL-Solar System Visualization Team via Wikimedia Commons. (public domain)

SHORT SHORTS (600 words & under)

Top Picks:

Honorable Mentions:

A reindeer trots across a grassy, green field in Sweden. Photo by Alexandre Buisse via Wikimedia Commons. (CC BY-SA-3.0)

NEWS & TRENDS (601–1200 words)

Top Picks:

Honorable Mentions:

Startled deer flee. Animals around the world are becoming more active at night, even species that aren’t usually nocturnal. Photo by Akshit Deshlande via Wikimedia Commons. (CC BY-A-SA4.0 international)

SINGLE STUDY DEEP DIVES (601–1200 words)

Top Picks:

Honorable Mentions:

Water. It’s slippery. Photo by Davide Restivo via Wikmedia Commons (CC A-SA2.0)

COLUMN, OP/ED, OR BLOG POST (1200 words & under)

Top Picks:

Honorable Mentions:

IV bags are meant to provide nourishment to patients, but hospital care is complicated. Photo by Harmid via Wikimedia Commons. (public domain)


Top Picks:

Honorable Mentions:

A pod of hippopotamuses stand in a river in Zambia. It may be possible to see similar sights in Colombia, thanks to Pablo Escobar. Photo by Paul Maritz via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA3.0 )

INSTITUTIONAL (1400 words & under)

Top Picks:

Honorable Mentions:

Adelie penguins tend to their nest. Image via Oregon State University on Flickr (CC BY-SA2.0)


Top Picks

Honorable Mentions:

A male Australian trapdoor spider. Photo by Johan C.G. Fagerholm via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA3.0)

HONORABLE MISFITS (over-length, in a different language, or just plain hard to classify)

And those are our picks for April-June 2018!

If you have stories you would like to nominate for the July-September 2018 round-up, you can do so through this form.

We are currently looking for 2–3 new editors to join us for the July-September cycle, contact Diana at

Check back with us in October for the next round-up!


The Best Shortform Science Writing project highlights…


The Best Shortform Science Writing project highlights outstanding science writing through quarterly round-ups, Q&As with science writers, and more!

Diana Crow

Written by

Fledgling science journalist here, hoping to foster discussion about the ways science acts as a catalyst for social change #biology


The Best Shortform Science Writing project highlights outstanding science writing through quarterly round-ups, Q&As with science writers, and more!

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