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Best Shortform Science Writing: October-December 2018

A landsat view of the Camp Wildfire, which burned from November 8 through 25 in 2018. It was the deadliest wildfire in California’s history. Image by Pierre Markuse via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The fall of 2018 abounded with high profile science stories. NASA successfully landed the InSight Lander on Mars.The first known “CRISPR babies” were born in China. Scientists voted to redefine the kilogram.. California experienced the most deadly fire in its recorded history. And marine biologists were able to rescue a young seal with an eel stuck up its nose. (Okay, that last one wasn’t a major story, but I saw quite a few tweets about it.)

At the SciShortform Project, our goal isn’t to recap the biggest science stories or to highlight the most important research. Our focus is on standout writing and reporting. But through happenstance, we often end up with picks that touch on many of the big science news stories.

2018 was a hell of a year, in more ways than one. But reading my colleagues’ takes on the latest research and recent events has been a great way to mark the passage of the year. Below you’ll find the SciShortform editors’ picks for October-December 2018.

A huge thanks to everyone who nominated stories last year! We enjoyed reading them and hope you enjoy these picks!

We received 242 nominations this cycle and narrowed them down to the 52 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: science writer and editor Alex Arreola; digital strategist and nonprofit consultant for MarTech Digital Anne Berlin; science writer Madeline Bodin; science writing lecturer Jimmy Brancho, PhD, of University of Michigan; science writer and copy editor Michael Dhar of Purch/Tech Media Network; life sciences researcher Kaberi Datta, PhD, of University of Calcutta; Heriot-Watt University MPhil graduate student Jess Hudgins, currently working with Sharks and Rays Australia; writer and digital strategist Lauren Hudgins, MFA: NIH postdoc Aparna Kishor, MD, PhD; science writer Rachel K. Spurrier; freelance science writer Malissa Stark-Rodenburg; 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 January-March 2019 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.

Algae growing on underwater rocks near the Big Island in Hawai’i. Photo by incidencematrix via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

Short Shorts (600 & under)

Top Picks:

Honorable Mentions:

Two surfers on a dock in Lake Michigan get sprayed by an incoming wave. Photo by Tony Faiola via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

News & Trends (1200 & under)

Top Picks:

Honorable Mentions:

Scrabble titles spelling out “DNA TEST” on a gray background. Photo by Marco Verch via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Single Study Deep Dives (1200 & under)

Top Picks:

Honorable Mentions:

Air pollution flowing from industrial chimneys before the installation of emissions controls. Photo via the National Parks Service and Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

Investigative or Data (1400 & under)

Top Picks:

Honorable Mentions:

Social wasps build a paper nest. Photo by Kathy Jones via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY SA-2.5)

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

Top Picks:

Honorable Mentions:

Attwater’s Prairie Chicken is known for the “booming” sound it makes with the sacs in its neck. Photo by George Lavendowski for US Fish and Wildlife Service via Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

Essays & Literary (1400 & under)

Top Picks:

Honorable Mentions:

This map shows the paths of all tropical storms that occurred from 1985–2005. Image by NASA via Wikimedia Commons. (public domain)

Institutional (1200 & under)

Top Picks:

Honorable Mentions:

A brown bear lounges on a log at the Alaska Wildlife Center. Photo by C Watts by Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Honorable Misfits (pieces that are slightly too long, published outside date range, or hard to classify)

And those are our picks for October-December 2018!

If you have stories you would like to nominate for the January-March 2019 round-up, you can do through this form or by tagging @SciShortform on Twitter with a link to the piece.

We are currently looking for 2–3 new editors to join us for 2019, contact Diana at

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




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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Diana Crow

Diana Crow

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

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