Best Shortform Science Writing: October-December 2018
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 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.
Short Shorts (600 & under)
- “What the electron’s near-perfect roundness means for new physics” by Lisa Grossman for Science News
- “Photosynthesis Makes a Sound” by Sarah Keartes for Hakai Magazine
- “This Fungus Eats Polyurethane” by Casey O’Brien for Sierra
- “Wombats are the only animals whose poop is a cube. Here’s how they do it.” by Laurel Hamers for Science News
- “Found: The Largest Cluster of Deep-Sea Octopuses Ever Recorded” by Anna Kusmer for Atlas Obscura
- “No, The CDC Didn’t Say You Can’t Put Chickens in Halloween Costumes” by Sara G. Miller for LiveScience
- “Oh, Give Me a Home Where the Wild Cod Roam” by K.N. Smith for Hakai Magazine
News & Trends (1200 & under)
- “People are decorating for Halloween with dead bats. The CDC says that’s a scary idea.” by Karin Brulliard for The Washington Post
- “These Surfers are Taking on U.S. Steel” by Susan Cosier for Outside
- “Neuroscientists Make a Case against Solitary Confinement” by Dana Smith for Scientific American
- “The leopard of NH 930” by Divya Gandhi for The Hindu
- “How Florida Counties Dealt With the Red Tide’s Stinking Mess” by Leslie Nemo for CityLab
- “The Mysterious Virus That Killed The Oregon Zoo’s Youngest Elephant” by Erin Ross for Oregon Public Broadcasting
- “Cosmology Is in Crisis over How to Measure the Universe” by Sarah Scoles for WIRED
- “Why Indonesia’s ‘volcano tsunami’ gave little to no warning” by Maya Wei-Haas for National Geographic
Single Study Deep Dives (1200 & under)
- “Why 536 was ‘the worst year to be alive’” by Ann Gibbons for Science
- “Swampy Thing: The Giant New Salamander Species Discovered in Florida and Alabama” by John R. Platt for The Revelator
- “What Happens When You’re Convinced You Have Bad Genes” by Sarah Zhang for The Atlantic
- “An Entangled Whale Tell-All” by Jennifer S. Holland for Hakai Magazine
- “The Sun Set Off 4,000 Sea Mines During the Vietnam War” by Sarah Laskow for Atlas Obscura
- “The landscape of the U.S. could be part of its climate solution” by Julia Rosen for The Los Angeles Times
- “Wait, Have We Really Wiped Out 60 Percent of Animals?” by Ed Yong for The Atlantic
Investigative or Data (1400 & under)
- “How many years do we lose to air pollution?” by Bonnie Berkowitz, John Muyskens, Manas Sharma, and Monica Ulmanu for The Washington Post
- “We Know Breast Density Is Linked To Cancer Risk. But Now What?” by Katherine Hobson for FiveThirtyEight
- “Why California’s Wildfires Are So Destructive, In 5 Charts” by Christie Aschwanden for FiveThirtyEight
- “Just about everything you’ve read on the Warren DNA test is wrong” by Glenn Kessler for The Washington Post
- “TVA told Jean Nance coal ash was safe. Now, she’s dead.” by Jamie Satterfield for Knoxville News Sentinel
Columns, Op/Eds, & Blog Posts (1200 & under)
- “Why Are Pelvic Exams on Unconscious, Unconsenting Women Still Part of Medical Training?” by Phoebe Friesen for Slate
- “It’s okay to let your transgender kid transition — even if they might change their mind in the future” by Jack Turban for Vox
- “Why we miss the wasps” by Alex Wild for NBC News
- “‘Could Somebody Please Debunk This?’: Writing About Science When Even the Scientists Are Nervous” by Amy Harmon for The New York Times
- “The unfortunate tenacity of the most common piece of litter” by Mark Kaufman for Mashable
- “The Ins and Outs of Birding With the Dead” by Rosemary Mosco for Audubon
- “Is it possible to have a planet orbit two stars, like Tatooine?” by Jillian Scudder for Astroquizzical
Essays & Literary (1400 & under)
- “A soil microbe saved my life” by Emily Cassidy for Ensia
- “Prairie Chicken Marathon” by Elizabeth Rush for Orion
- “How Beethoven Talks to My Wife, Carol” by Joel Shurkin for Inside Science
- “Click” by Roberta Kwok for Southern Review
- “Thinking about Climate on a Dark, Dismal Morning” by Kate Marvel for Scientific American
Institutional (1200 & under)
- “Tiny critter swims in polygons to steer clear of light” by Amy Adams for Stanford via Futurity
- “Biggest Bird May Have Been Blind” by JB Bird for UT News (University of Texas Austin)
- “The Stories Behind the Science: How Does the Ocean’s Saltiness Affect Tropical Storms?” by Shannon Brescher Shea for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science homepage
- “Hysterectomy linked to memory deficit in an animal model” by Kimberlee D’Ardenne for ASU Now
- “Models of dinosaur movement could help us build stronger robots and buildings” by Sandrine Ceurstemont for Horizon: The EU Research & Innovation Magazine
Honorable Misfits (pieces that are slightly too long, published outside date range, or hard to classify)
- “The Glory of Otis, Fattest of the Fat Bears” by Erin Berger for Outside
- “Monitoring water quality after wildfires” by Katherine Bourzac for Chemical & Engineering News
- “When an FDA Ruling Curbed Fecal Transplants, I Performed My Own.” by Susan D’Agostino for Undark
- “Water savings may cause suffering for burrowing owls” by Liza Gross for High Country News
- “Why White Supremacists Are Chugging Milk (and Why Geneticists Are Alarmed)” by Amy Harmon for The New York Times
- “Petrel Station” by Steve King for Vanity Fair
- “The Kilogram Is Dead. Long Live the Kilogram!” by XiaoZhi Lim for The New York Times
- “EXCLUSIVE: Chinese scientists are creating CRISPR babies” by Antonio Regalado for MIT Tech Review
And those are our picks for October-December 2018!
We are currently looking for 2–3 new editors to join us for 2019, contact Diana at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check back with us in January for the next round-up!