Best Shortform Science Writing: July-September 2019

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

Diana Crow
Nov 15, 2019 · 8 min read
Photo by Jordan Whitt via Unsplash

Somehow, 2019 is already nearly over.

For SciShortform, it’s been a year of growth. Fueled by our growing audience and a Peggy Girshman Idea Grant from the National Association of Science Writers (NASW), we’ve branched out into publishing Q&As where science writers share the stories behind their work and have nearly doubled our roster of volunteers.

We’re also approaching the end of a decade marked by intensifying debate over climate, health, and technology policies. It’s a cliché at this point, but science writers have more to write about and more urgent reasons to reach new audiences than ever before.

The landscape of science writing itself has changed in the past decade, too. Dozens of science-focused webzines — such as Hakai, STAT, Quanta, Knowable, Aeon, SAPIENS, bioGraphic, Mosaic, Undark, The Revelator, NEO.LIFE, and many more — have launched just in the past 10 years and gone on to publish some of the highest caliber science writing around. Initiatives like ComSciCon and Massive Science have created fresh opportunities for scientists learn science writing through doing, and the indefatigable The Open Notebook has made a topnotch education in the craft and business of science writing freely available to everyone with an internet connection.

Watching the science writing community grow in the past few years has been a hell of a ride. Here at SciShortform, we’re just one small piece of vibrant community, but our goal has always been to curate lists of articles that reflect the range of voices, topics, styles, and venues that make up the science writing community.

At the risk of being cheesy, we’re thankful for you (our audience, most of whom are science writers) and the vital work of telling stories about climate, health, and scientific discovery that you continue to do.

Anyway, here are some of our favorite short science pieces that came out in July, August, and September of 2019!

A word cloud (shaped like a leaf) based on a selection of 2019 SciShortform posts. Generated via


We received 296 nominations this cycle and narrowed them down to the 49 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.

Our Team

This edition’s editors include: science writer Nina Bai of UCSF; Anne Berlin, who is Senior Manager of Digital Experience & SEO at Kaplan Higher Education; science writing lecturer Jimmy Brancho, PhD, of University of Michigan; science writer and copy editor Michael Dhar of Future; life sciences researcher Kaberi Datta, PhD, of University of Calcutta; freelance science writer Natasha Gilbert; award-winning independent journalist Cheryl Katz; postdoc Aparna Kishor, MD, PhD; science writer Stephen Riffle, PhD; freelance science writer Caroline Seydel; graduate student Vanessa Vieites of Florida International University; and me (freelance science writer Diana Crow).

Our inaugural team of story scouts included freelance science writer and Plant Crimes podcast host Ellen Airhart and graduate student Ashwini P.

Special thanks to NYU SHERP graduate student Dani Leviss, who has been managing our social media. And to science writer Courtney Columbus and graduate student Kiran Gurung of University of Groningen, who have been assisting us in the preparation of grant applications and outreach to other organizations.

This project was funded in part by a grant from the National Association of Science Writers. Reference to any specific commercial product, process, or service does not necessarily constitute or imply its endorsement or recommendation by the National Association of Science Writers, and any views and opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the National Association of Science Writers.

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 October-December 2019 is here.

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

A bloom of Microcystis algae at Lake Okeechobee in 2004. Photo via Florida Sea Grant and Flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

SHORT SHORTS (under 600 words)

Photo by Mathias Appel via Flickr. (public domain)

NEWS & TRENDS (601–1200 words)

Photo by Willow Gabriel via Flickr. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

SINGLE STUDY DEEP DIVES (601–1200 words)

The potential for facial recognition software to be used against marginalized and minoritized people has prompted concerns about some researchers’ ties to industry and governments. Art by teguhjatipras via Pixabay

DATA OR INVESTIGATIVE (1400 words & under)

This 1921 photograph depicts a lodestone and compass that once belonged to Galileo Galilee. Lodestones were used to ascertain direction. Image by Charles Singer via Wikimedia Commons. (public domain)

COLUMNS, OP/EDS, AND BLOG POSTS (1200 words & under)

A Red-Winged Blackbird (left) chases a Red-Tailed Hawk. Photo by Liam Quinn (CC BY-SA 2.0)

ESSAYS & LITERARY (1400 words & under)

A stand of oak trees at Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum. Photo by Chris Devers via Flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

INSTITUTIONAL (1200 words & under)

Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg has emerged as one of the most prominent environmental advocates in the world. In this photo, she stands outside Swedish Parliament. Photo by Anders Hellberg via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)


Feral hogs can eat. A lot. Photo by Josh Henderson via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

And those are our picks for July-September 2019!

If you would like to nominate a story from October, November, or December 2019, tag @SciShortform on Twitter with a link to the piece OR go directly through this Google form.


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!