Best Shortform Science Writing July-September 2016

(A Highly Subjective Round-up of Standout Science News)

[Image above by Silke Remmery via Flickr and CC 2.0 license] 

After nine months of searching through short science stories with an eye out for some of the best that the genre has to offer, I’ve come to a conclusion: Investigative pieces under 1200 words are rare.

Since the investigative genre often hinges on journalists showing their work and offering evidence on top of evidence on top of evidence, the relative dearth of short-n-sweet investigative pieces makes sense from a logistics perspective. At the same time, most members of the general public encounter science not through investigative reports but through brief segments on TV news shows and by the short but (hopefully) informative articles that crop up in Facebook news feeds.

And then we wonder why the public seems unable to effectively question science and why science journalists have a reputation for being less critical than their colleagues in business and political reporting…

Anyway, if you see any standout investigative or data pieces in the next few months, I hope you’ll share them with the editors of Best Shortform Science Writing. You can nominate stories via this Google form or simply by tagging us at @SciShortform on Twitter. (Be sure to include a link to the piece you’re nominating in your tweet!)

Special thanks to our editorial team’s new recruits– Dyani Lewis, a freelancer based in Hobart, Australia and Nola Taylor Redd, a freelancer based in Atlanta, Georgia– as well as our returning editors Sarah Lewin of and Amanda Alvarez of the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Japan.

During this cycle, the editors collectively read and rated almost 200 candidates for the shortform round-up, and the number of pieces submitted keeps growing. We’re in the market for 1-2 more editors, so if interested, please email me at

Here are some of the shortform science writing highlights from July through September:

Short Shorts (under 600 words)

[succinct, focused, clear, cool]

Top Picks:

Honorable Mentions:

News-length (601-1000 words)

[topical, informative, newspaper-style]

Top Picks:
Honorable Mentions:
Single-Study Deep Dives & Profiles (700-1200 words)

[Insightful, humanizing, focuses on 1 study or 1 scientist]

Top Picks:
Honorable Mentions:
Data & Investigative Quick-Hits (under 1200 words)

[probing, original, rigorous, bonus points for visuals]

Top Picks:
Honorable Mentions:
Columns, Op-Eds, & Blog posts (under 1200 words)

[strong opinion angle, informed, possibly critical, possibly 1st person]

Top Picks:
Honorable Mentions:
Honorable Misfits

[Suggestions sent to us that were too long, too old, and/or in a different language but hard to leave out, anyway.]


If you’ve got suggestions on how the BSSW roundups can be improved, leave a comment. (Or email me at or tag us on Twitter @SciShortform)

Help Find the Next Batch of Best Shortform Science Writing!

If you liked this list (or if you think that we snubbed a deserving outlet or writer), please send suggestions for the next quarterly “Best” Shortform Science Writing. That post will cover October-December 2016 and will debut in mid-January 2017.

And if you know of any July through September stories we’ve missed, post ‘em in the comments below!

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