The Sciences

Celebrating female science bloggers

Not Exactly Rocket ScienceBy Ed YongJan 28, 2011 7:09 AM


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There’s an animated discussion in the making about female science bloggers. It started in the wake of an excellent session on women bloggers at ScienceOnline 2011, and has led to several thoughtful posts on the issues that they face, self-promotion, dealing with sexism, and more. I’ve talked at length about the self-promotion side of the discussion but more recently, the themeofvisibility (or rather invisiblity) of female bloggers has emerged. Stephanie Zvan makes the good point that many female bloggers are noticed only when they write navel-gazing posts about female bloggers. She summarises thus: “If you want us to be recognized as science writers, engage with our science writing.” It’s a fair challenge. I read a lot of female bloggers. I promote their work on Twitter and on my weekly list of links. But this is a good enough opportunity to single some people out for special mention, and hopefully do a little more than the usual promises of supporting one another and so on. So this is a list of women bloggers who I think you should read, with specific reasons why I think you should read them, and some of my favourite posts of theirs to get you started. And note, this is not a list of top female science bloggers; it’s an all-female list of top science bloggers. Rebecca Skloot is already science-writing royalty but it's always worth repeating that The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was easilythe best popular science book of the last decade. She found a story that absolutely needed to be told, pursued it tenaciously, and narrated it with flair, style and accuracy. That she has won accolade after accolade for it no surprise. Her blog is understandably focused on the book, but the archives are fertile ground for other great offbeat topics, such as assistance animals. Alice Bell knows a ridiculous amount about science communication and brings insight and evidence to an area where most people are content to rant and whine. Always thought-provoking and knits a hell of a scarf. I think I've plugged virtually everything she's written at some point, but go on, some picks: taking journalism upstream, a post on the fascinating bomb-builder, museum-maker and balloon-launcher Frank Oppenheimer, and a serious look at science jokes. Jennifer Ouellette is the only writer who has made me care about maths, through her book The Calculus Diaries. It’s a difficult field which sets a tough baseline, but Jen vaults it. Her style is funny, brisk and immersive – check out these posts on buckyballs or this one on mucus, slime, hagfish, Ghostbusters and Buffy, and outside her own blog, this recent smackdown in a thread on science jargon. SciCurious has taken the conversational nature of blogging and run with it, producing a hilarious, offbeat neuroscience blog that amuses and informs in equal measure. Sci recently figured out she was awesome when the rest of us had known it for ages. Her primers are still some of the best intros to neuroscience around, and let's not even start on the Friday Weird Science posts. Maryn McKenna is a journalist specialising on infectious diseases. Her blog (which really should be called Typhoid Maryn, but instead is called Superbug) is home to eye -opening science of the Skloot mould - the type that everyone else should be reporting but no one actually is, and all beautifully told to boot. Don’t miss this incredible story about a surprising 1918 autopsy, this one on “vaccine-derived polio”, and anything involving the terrifying NDM-1Deborah Blum is a Pulitzer-prize winner and author of The Poisoner's Handbook. Her blog, Speakeasy Science is a literary playground, where Deb experiments and tinkers with different writing styles and story forms, fusing linguistic alchemy with the topic of chemistry. Don’t miss this personal post on cigarette-smoking, or this calendar of carbon monoxide poisoning. Mary Carmichael is currently binge-learning about genetics as a Knight Fellow. In this field, her stuff is some of the best science journalism out there, including this classic 6-part series about her quest to decide whether to do a personal gene test, and this profile on Harvard geneticist George Church. Also, because some people have forgotten, she was the one who broke last year’s story on the dodgy “longevity genes” Science paper. She blogs at Wild Type. Emily Anthes is a freelance writer whose blog, Wonderland, lives up to the name. It’s home to wonderful nuggets from all around the Internet and I guarantee you'll find stuff here that you won't see in other blogs, including the bizarre phenomenon of practice babies, a tadpole taste test, and the now infamous line “And now for the cobra”.Kate Clancy is an anthropology professor whose strong, measured and insightful writing kick-started this latest round of reflection on female science bloggers. With her young blog, Context and Variation, she's one of the few female bloggers on this list who blogs largely about female issues. Don’t miss this series of posts on IVF and pregnancy, grounded in research and personality, or this Scientific American guest-post on the reality of menstrual cycles. Petra Boynton is a sex researcher and self-professed evidence-based agony aunt. You know all the crazy writing about sex that floods the media? Petra shows you what that would actually look like if it was filtered through a brain, an evidence base and some writing skills. Read her for the wonderful take-downs of terrible sex coverage and the science behind such topics as filbanserin and sex education.Sheril Kirshenbaum wrote one of my favourite science books of the last year – The Science of Kissing. It’s a whirlwind tour through an instantly relatable topic, told with warmth, pace, and a perfect balance of accuracy and accessibility. Book aside, Sheril’s one of my fellow Discover bloggers, and heavily involved in science policy. Gaia Vince gave up a job editing news for Nature to travel the world, collecting first-hand stories about biodiversity and the impact of climate change on the world’s developing countries. Her blog is a marvellous piece of unique photojournalism – try these posts on reforesting the desert in Peru, the death of a Bolivian village and an attempt to paint a mountain. Christie Wilcox is one to watch – a scientist and science writer whose accessible and enthusiastic style has been growing for years. Have a look at this no-holds-barred analysis of a study on hidden messages in female tears, this post on the evolution of oddly shaped dogs, and her experience on becoming a citizen journalist during a tsunami warning. Miriam Goldstein is an ocean blogger and part of the respectable contingent of Deep Sea News. Her stuff exemplifies some of the best material from scientist bloggers – humorous and personal bits interspersed with these thorough, authoritative (journalistic, but don’t tell her I said that) takes on the so-called “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”, the evidence behind (un)sustainable seafood and geoengineering. Virginia Hughes, who I owe for two things: recruiting me onto ScienceBlogs and plying my screen with some truly great pieces of science journalism from brain scans in murder trials to synaesthesia to the difficult search for a prostate cancer marker. She also posts regularly on Last Word on Nothing. Maggie Koerth-Baker heads up BoingBoing’s science pages, serving a great platter of entertaining science. She’s generous about showcasing stuff across the internet, and her bespoke features are always worth a read – see this one on cephalopods and my favourite one on Antarctica. Sophia Collins isn’t quite a blogger, which is a bit like saying that a Ferrari isn’t quite a bike. She’s one of the masterminds behind the inspirational I'm a Scientist, Get Me Out of Here programme, and she recently wrote two very brave and moving posts onabortion. Andrea Kuszewski gave me one of my more enjoyable and thought-provoking chats at ScienceOnline 2011, on blogging as a platform for new ideas. Read her Scientific American guest-post on chess-boxing for an example of this, or her blog Rogue Neuron for more. I’m scratching the surface here, with not enough time to go into Janet Stemwedel’s funny ethical musings, Melody Dye’s razor-sharpwriting on languages, Jess Palmer’s unqiue tour through the overlap between art and biology (OCTOPUS CHAIR!), Jenny Rohn’s lyrical insider’s look at the life of a scientist, Ann Finkbeiner’s sublimewriting on Last Word on Nothing, Bec Crew’s singular take on science news, Kat Arney’s sterling efforts at the charity I work for, Biochembelle’s brilliant look at the nature of greatness through the lens of Fritz Haber, Eliza Strickland's relentless curation of the day's news at Discover, Hannah Waters who won an award of Best New Blog last year and it’snot hardto see why, and new blogs by seasoned journos like Claire Ainsworth, writing on the ecology of cheese, or Hillary Rosner, writing on orang-utans and the threats they face. These are the names that came to mind after a minute of list-making. There are many more I've undoubtedly forgotten (sorry, sorry), many people I interact with on Twitter whose blogs I really ought to read, and many awesome professional science journalists who I decided to leave out for arbitrary inclusion criteria. Look, there's loads of them and many of them are superb. Want more? Try this comprehensive view of the female science blogosphere. But really, this will work best if you go and explore for yourself. The point of this post was to help calibrate the spotlight. Feel free to add more below. But try and stick to the format. If you like someone's work, say why and give some examples for the rest of us to try out. And feel free to expand on any of the portraits I've sketched out above.

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