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Open Lab 2012: Kill Your Darlings

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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“In writing, you must kill all your darlings.”
William Faulkner

Hopefully everyone’s had a chance by now to look over the list of finalists for Open Lab 2012. The hardest part of editing an anthology turns out to be remarkably similar to the hardest part of writing: the necessity of killing one’s darlings. (Or, as Stephen King put it in On Writing: “kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”) But that doesn’t mean said darlings are forgotten! So I wanted to take a moment to highlight a few posts that I loved, but that didn’t quite make the final cut; each cut broke my heart a little. They are still well worth a read, so please do check them out.

1. Beatrice the Biologist: Your cold symptoms are your fault [AND]: Sleep Deprivation (cartoons). Beatrice seems like a kindred spirit to Allie of Hyperbole and a Half. It’s all about the cartoons, here, not the text — and those cartoons just wouldn’t translate well into print, alas. But I love the sense of play in evidence, and heck, any post with a cartoon drawing of mucus is A+ in my book.

2. The Biology Files: The Bears of Texas: Chapter 1-The Last Grizzly. Elegant and elegaic history of the last grizzly bear in Texas, from the keyboard of Emily Willingham. It’s actually the first chapter in a book she’s written, The Bears of Texas, so if you like what you read, you can order the whole thing.

3. Boundary Vision: Science and music: Seeing past the noise with Robin Woywitka and Paul Farrant. Tons of quirky charm, here, as Marie-Claire Shanahan explores how science informs the music of this duo, and vice versa.

4. Clastic Detritus: The Long Beat of Rhythmic Sedimentation. I loved the conceit in this post: that the layers of Earth’s sediment have their own rhythm, and geologists are learning more about how to keep the beat.

5. Culturing Science: Urban ecology doesn’t have enough humans in it. Hannah Waters muses on everything we don’t see as we walk the streets of NYC’s urban environment.

6. The Dog Zombie: The case of the jaundiced terrier. I was not familiar with this blog until now — one of the advantages to editing the anthology is discovering new voices. This is a nicely written vignette of an unusual case encountered by a veterinarian; not a perspective one usually finds!

7. From The Lab Bench: Life, Death, and Silver Bullets. I love that Paige Brown took a huge creative risk here, turning a scientific study into a short science fiction story. Looking forward to reading more from her.

8. Guardian Science Blog (Scicurious) The postdrome: migraine’s silent sister. The always wonderful Scicurious muses on the scientific evidence for a lesser-known stage of migraine.

9. The Inverse Square Blog: “The First Thing A Principle Does Is Kill Somebody”. Any post that opens with a quote from Lord Peter Wimsey (from Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night, specifically) is guaranteed to catch my attention, and if it’s written by Tom Levenson — well, you just know it’s gonna be worth your time.

10. Neurophilosophy: The ghostly gaze and the disappearing bust of Voltaire. I’ve been a Neurophilosophy fan for years. Mo Costandi does his usual fine work exploring an unusual optical illusion — alas, it relies heavily on images we didn’t think would reproduce well enough in printed form. But that’s not a problem online, so check it out.

11. Oscillator: Allergy Recapitulates Phylogeny. Seamless melding of the personal with scientific explication in this charming post. Who hasn’t wondered at the seeming randomness of allergies?

12. Providentia: The Turing Problem (Part 1), The Turing Problem (Part 2) and The Turing Problem (Part 3) fused into a single essay. Alan Turing is one of the most fascinating figures in 20th century science history, and Romeo Vitelli weaves together a compelling tale of the consequences of Turing’s homosexuality at a time when it was still a criminal offense, exploring the topic of chemical castration in that context. Heartbreaking.

13. Quantum Diaries (US LHC): Helicity, Chirality, Mass, and the Higgs. One of the best careful explications of an incredibly complicated physics topic you’re likely to read. Impress your friends at the next dinner party with your grasp of chirality in particle physics when they mention the hunt for the Higgs boson!

14. Southern Fried Science: The importance of failure in graduate student training. One of the best lessons I ever learned as an adult was the importance of failure in life — we hate to fail, but that’s often how we grow and learn. So I loved Andrew David Thaler’s refreshingly honest tale of a graduate research project gone horribly wrong. Fortunately there’s a happy ending!

15.  This View of Life: Narrating Science and Fear. Emily Finke muses on narrative structure, and how we can use the same kinds of stories that delight us in fairy tales to augment our communication of science.

Finally, there were over 70 posts from the Scientific American Guest Blog nominated this year; only seven made the final cut, despite the fact that a huge fraction received very high marks from reviewers. (Perhaps FSG will consider a separate anthology of the best of the SciAm Guest Blog in the future.)  It features posts by some of the best and brightest blogging voices out there, so it’s a great way to find new bloggers.

 

Jennifer Ouellette About the Author: Jennifer Ouellette is a science writer who loves to indulge her inner geek by finding quirky connections between physics, popular culture, and the world at large. Follow on Twitter @JenLucPiquant.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. scicurious 9:17 am 12/8/2011

    Awww thank you! I’m so glad you liked the piece! I know it’s hard to kill your darlings (so hard that I personally never do it), but I think the final selection is really a wonderful slice of the blogsphere. Brilliant job!

    Link to this
  2. 2. CriticalWitPodcast 12:43 pm 12/8/2011

    I enjoyed the Bears of Texas series a lot, and I live in Michigan. I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Emily Willingham about it on my podcast.

    http://www.criticalwitpodcast.com/podcast/critical-wit-31-%E2%80%93-bears-and-people-a-history-of-conflict/

    Link to this
  3. 3. tdelene 9:51 am 12/9/2011

    I’ve never bothered to track this down, but I’ve also heard the quote that in writing you must “murder your darlings,” attributed to Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch. Faulkner and Fitzgerald have both been credited with the same “kill your darlings” phrase, but I’ve heard Quiller-Couch was the first to coin the phrase (around 1912?) as part of a series of lectures he wrote about writing. Anyone know for sure?

    Link to this
  4. 4. beatrice 4:30 pm 12/14/2011

    Oh my goodness! Thank you so much for including me in your honorable mention list! Makes me so happy. Really glad you like my randomness.

    -Beatrice the Biologist

    Link to this

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