(A Highly Subjective Round-Up of Standout Science Writing)

Diana Crow
Aug 8 · 7 min read
A submerged rain tree (Seamanea saman) in Laos. Photo by Basile Morin via Wikimedia Commons. (CC BY-SA 4.0)

At the 2018 Science Writers conference in Washington, DC, noted science journalist David Quammen shared an anecdote from his time as a columnist. His column’s beat was science, but it was science defined so broadly that “anything with a scientist, an animal, or a tree” counted as fair game.

This axiom remains one of my favorite definitions of science writing — though I’d probably add “anything about a molecule, a microbe, or subatomic particle” — and,as the lead editor on this project, it’s one I ponder a lot.

We frequently read pieces that lead us to wonder, “This is good, but is it sciencey enough for Best Shortform Science Writing?” Answering that question requires a shared definition for what “science” is.

For the purposes of this round-up, we usually define science pretty broadly, including health, environmental, and tech journalism, along with the occasional anthropology story — partly because the reporters covering these topics overlap with the “science writer” population and partly because we simply want to highlight the best short pieces we can find.

Below you’ll find our picks from a pool of nominated stories spanning April-June 2019. We hope you enjoy them!

Statistics

We received 203 nominations this cycle and narrowed them down to the 55 pieces listed below.

The pieces that made the cut had to survive two rounds of selection and impress at least two (and usually three) SciShortform editors.

About Our Editors

This edition’s editors include: Anne Berlin; science writing lecturer Jimmy Brancho, PhD, of University of Michigan; Heriot-Watt University MPhil graduate student Jess Hudgins, who is currently working with Sharks and Rays Australia; postdoc Aparna Kishor, MD, PhD; freelance science writer Lynne Peskoe-Yang; science writer Stephen Riffle, PhD, of Helix; freelance science writer Caroline Seydel; graduate student Vanessa Vieites of Florida International University; and me (freelance science writer Diana Crow).

About the Round-Up Format

We sort the stories into “Top Picks” and “Honorable Mentions”. The stories are in alphabetical order by the author’s last name.

As always, our selection is driven by serendipity and whoever decides to send suggestions via our crowdsourced nomination/submission form. The form for July-September 2019 is here.

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

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

PET scans can reveal signs of Alzheimer’s Disease. Image by Institut Douglas via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Short Shorts (under 600 words)

Top Picks:

Honorable Mentions:

Dozens of Northern Elephant Seals lounge on a beach. Photo by Gregory “Slobirdr” Smith via Creative Commons. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

News & Trends (601–1200 words)

Top Picks:

Honorable Mentions

An Asian Tiger Mosquito feeds on blood while standing on human skin. Photo by James Gathany/CDC via the CDC’s Public Health Image Library (PHIL) and Wikimedia Commons. (public domain)

Single Study Deep Dives (601–1200 words)

Top Picks:

Honorable Mentions:

Border agents often take and search through people’s smartphones without warrants. Photo by Witches Falls Cotages via Creative Commons & Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

Data or Investigative (1400 words & under)

Top Picks:

Honorable Mentions:

Archaeologist Dorothy Garrod was the first woman to chair a department at Cambridge. Photographic by Newnham College via Wikimedia Commons. (public domain)

Columns, Op/Eds, & Blog Posts (1200 words & under)

Top Picks:

Honorable Mentions:

This Chandra image shows the Carina Nebula. Image by NASA/CXC/Penn State/L. Townsley et al. (public domain)

Essays & Literary (1400 words & under)

Top Picks:

Honorable Mentions:

Shelter dogs often experience intense stress. Photo by Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA via Wikimedia Commons. (public domain)

Institutional (1200 words & under)

Top Picks:

Honorable Mentions:

Viruses that attack bacteria offer an alternative strategy for attacking infectious bacteria. Image by Dr. Graham Beards via Wikimedia Commons. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Misfits

And those are our picks for April-June 2019!

If you would like to nominate a story for July-September 2019, tag @SciShortform on Twitter with a link to the piece OR go directly through this Google form.

We’re also recruiting a number of new volunteers and readers. For details on open positions, check out this post. If you’re interested in joining the team, contact Diana at diana@dianacrowscience.com. (Please include SciShortform in your subject line!)

SciShortform

The Best Shortform Science Writing project highlights standout science writing. Curated quarterly

Diana Crow

Written by

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

SciShortform

The Best Shortform Science Writing project highlights standout science writing. Curated quarterly

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