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It’s Here! Best Science Writing Online 2012

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


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The Big Day has finally arrived: The Best Science Writing Online 2012 — or, The Anthology Formerly Known as Open Lab (TAFKOL) — hits the shelves, virtual or otherwise, and as this year’s guest editor, I couldn’t be happier for the many talented writers featured in this edition. It was an honor to work with them. (You can see contributor Deborah Blum’s take here, and contributor Richard Wintle’s comments here.)

Scientific American hosted a live chat this morning, moderated by editor Robin Lloyd and featuring series editor Bora Zivkovic, as well as several of this year’s contributors. Yours truly, alas, was unable to participate due to a perplexing technical SNAFU, but Bora represented the editorial viewpoint more than capably. I’d still like to address a couple of the questions raised here, because it’s no fun being left out of the conversation.

1. What was the nomination and selection process? Surprisingly, several people seemed unaware of the process by which posts were nominated and selected — which I hope is a sign that the anthology is broadening its audience. Basically, anyone can nominate any blog post over the course of the year using this handy nomination form. (I’ve nominated several wonderful posts from my favorite bloggers over the last few months.)

Once the deadline is past, the real work begins. For the 2012 anthology, Bora and I both read every single post, but we also put together a team of volunteer “judges” to evaluate the entries independently — usually those judges had at least passing familiarity, if not bona fide expertise, in the topic or a related area. Every post was reviewed by at least two independent judges, plus Bora and myself, in two rounds of judging.

This culled the list down from 720 to around 75 entries. That’s when the really hard part began: we had to cut ~25 more posts. And we managed it, after several intensive conversations over email, with SciAm Books/FSG editor Amanda Moon weighing in on her favorites as well.

2. How did we ensure sufficient diversity of topics, styles, and so forth? Showcasing the astonishing diversity of the science blogosphere was a priority for me as editor of this year’s anthology. I wanted to get a broad sampling of topics, voices, styles, and so forth, so a lot of the final decisions were influenced by that criteria. In hindsight, I would preferred a bit more neuroscience in the final product, but that field has rather dominated past anthologies, and I was pleased that much more chemistry and physics-related posts were included in the 2012 edition. I tried to have humor, investigative reporting, explanatory blog posts, personal rants and ruminations, more news-y posts, and yes, one poem, too. Next year, I’d like to see more math. But hey, the 2013 editor might have different priorities. Which is totally cool.

3. How much editing was done on the selected entries? This was a much-discussed issue, since one of the best things about blogging is the more casual, conversational, breezy style. There are also certain online conventions and practices that simply don’t translate well to the printed page. So Bora and I went back and forth about how much or how little editing we should do. We wanted to preserve something of the informal flavor of blogging and sense of immediacy, while still meeting the more polished, long-term requirements of the printed anthology.

Fortunately, this hardline approach proved unnecessary for the 2012 contributors.

In the end, it came down to my editorial judgement call. I focused on whatever changes would best help translate the post from online to print format. So the degree of editing really varied from piece to piece; some essays were edited fairly heavily, while others were sufficiently polished for a print format that they required very little editing at all.

And sadly, we were unable to include many of the photos or illustrations for space reasons — and no multimedia, either. Perhaps that will change as electronic book technology continues to advance. And I suspect the degree of editing will continue to increase in subsequent anthologies, as the boundaries between blogging and traditional science writing and reporting continue to blur.

4. Why bother with a printed book when all the posts are available online? Um — that’s a really good question. During this morning’s discussion, several people mentioned that they had been inspired by similar printed anthologies in the past; the same is true for me. I’d add that, for the time being, there is still a market for this sort of thing. Not all readers care to read 50 blog posts on 50 different Webpages.

Also, it’s nice, as a writer/blogger, to have the chance to take something one wrote rather off-the-cuff and revisit it, polish it, and have it go through the copy-editing process before appearing in print. My own writing has benefited greatly from such back-and-forth with editors over the years, and I hope this year’s bevy of bloggers feel the same about their experiences with SciAm/FSG.  

That’s it! There’s still time to submit blog posts for consideration for the 2013 edition of The Best Science Writing Online: the deadline is October 1. The open nomination process has always been a crucial element in the success of the series, and the more people who take the trouble to do so, the better representation we can get across the vast expanse of the science blogosphere. (Bora maintains a weekly updated list of the posts nominated so far.)

Oh, and there’s also still a chance to make it onto the highly coveted list of participants for the annual Science Online blogging conference in North Carolina, January 31-February 2, 2013. I’ll be there, plugging the anthology, co-moderating a panel with the awesome io9 editor, Annalee Newitz, on science and science fiction — and facing off against all challengers in another round of Choco-Poker! Hope to see you there!

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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