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The Open Laboratory 2012 – the final entries

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


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I know, you have been very patient, waiting for this day. And it has finally arrived – we are ready to announce the 50 essays and 1 poem that will be published in the sixth annual anthology of the best science writing online.

If you are new to this, here is the history and background of the project. You can buy the previous five editions here and read my prefaces/introductions to the previous editions here.

You may have all waited on the edges of your seats, but it was not easy for us either. After the two rounds of judging, the original 721 entries (all awesome and worthy of inclusion) were reduced to about 125 finalists.

And that is when going got tough. Jennifer and I spent days e-mailing each other, discussing each entry, rereading them all over and over, voting (and asking Amanda Moon, the book editor at SA/FSG to break ties as needed) on them, and gradually eliminating them one by one until we finally got down to the proscribed 50 essays.

Each elimination was excruciatingly painful. It was like having to choose between one’s own children (that’s Sophie’s Choice, right?). Can we really have the book without the amazing posts by Emily Willingham, Scicurious, Jeanne Garbarino, Romeo Vitelli, Emily Finke, Marie-Claire Shanahan, Mo Costandi and others (to name just a few who almost made it)? Those posts were all awesome, and massively shared on online social media, and beloved. But alas, there are only 50 spots and these hard decisions had to be made.

What is important to remember in these situations is what the book is about. While the science blogosphere is very competitive (and yes, after five years, getting published in #openlab has some prestige attached to it, not to mention that it can count as publication for new writers, and as outreach activity for the academics’ CVs), the target audience is lay audience, not bloggers. The point is not to choose the 50 best posts in some absolute sense, but 50 representative posts of the year, showcasing the diversity of topics, forms, formats, lengths, styles and voices, including pieces by established writers and by new talent (at quick glance, at least three bloggers whose work will be included this year have only started blogging during the past year).

And I think (hope?) that we were successful in this. It will be a book to give as a present to a non-scientist reader who cannot help but get hooked by all the great writing – hopefully hooked enough to then start looking for science blogs online, searching for more.

What comes next? Switching publishers from Lulu.com to Farrar, Strauss and Giroux will inevitably introduce some changes. Obviously, the crowdsourced and transparent method for choosing the entries remains (and the submission form for next year will be open soon, within a week or so). But some things will be different. For example, the cover will be done by professionals instead of by our artists-in-blogospheric-residence. The articles will be professionally copy-edited (they were already lightly edited by Jennifer). The title will change somewhat, including the date – 2012 (correct, there will be no 2011 book, as this is a transitional year when we change our usual rhythm – you’ll get used to the new rhythm by next year, I bet).

Most importantly, the publication date is moving from the early February of the past years to early/mid September in the future – just in time for holiday shopping. And of course, the mighty marketing machine of FSG will make sure this edition sees orders of magnitude more buyers than the previous five collections combined, then squared and cubed.

As we usually do, we will announce things as they happen, e.g., when the cover becomes public, or when next year’s editor is chosen. In the meantime, let me duplicate Jennifer’s effort (read her comments as well) and re-post the entire list of 51 posts that will be published next year. Congratulations to all!

1. Anthropology in Practice (Krystal D’Costa): Unraveling The Fear o’ the Jolly Roger

2. The Artful Amoeba (Jennifer Frazer): Bombardier Beetles, Bee Purple, and the Sirens of the Night

3. The Atavism (David Winter): The origin and extinction of species

4. Black Ink Obelisk (Aubrey J. Sanders): Somata (poem)

5. Blogus scientificus (Alex Reshanov): Shakes on a Plane: Can Turbulence Kill You?

6. Body Horrors (Rebecca Kreston): This Ain’t Yo Momma’s Muktuk: Fermented Seal Flipper, Botulism, Being Cold & Other Joys of Arctic Living

7. Boing Boing (Lee Billings): Incredible journey: Can we reach the stars without breaking the bank?

8. Boing Boing (Maggie Koerth-Baker): Nuclear energy 101: Inside the “black box” of power plants

9. Context and variation (Kate Clancy): Menstruation is just blood and tissue you ended up not using

10. Dangerous Experiments (Joe Hanson, It’s Okay To Be Smart): On Beards, Biology, and Being a Real American

11. Deep Sea News (Miriam Goldstein): DON’T PANIC: Sustainable seafood and the American outlaw

12. Empirical Zeal: (Aatish Bhatia) What it feels like for a sperm

13. En Tequila Es Verdad (Dana Hunter): Adorers of the Good Science of Rock-breaking

14. Endless Forms Most Beautiful (Kimberly Gerson): Romeo: A Lone Wolf’s Tragedy in Three Acts

15. Expression Patterns (Eva Amsen): Make history, not vitamin C

16. The Gleaming Retort (John Rennie): Volts and Vespa: Buzzing about Photoelectric Wasps

17. Guardian Science Blog (Karen James): Space shuttle launch: ‘I feel the percussive roar on the skin of my face’

18. Highly Allochthonous (Chris Rowan): Ten million feet upon the stair

19. History of Geology (David Bressan): It’s sedimentary, my dear Watson

20. Laelaps (Brian Switek): The Dodo is Dead, Long Live the Dodo!

21. The Last Word On Nothing (Ann Finkbeiner): Science Metaphors (cont): Resonance

22. The Loom (Carl Zimmer): The Human Lake

23. Neuron Culture (David Dobbs): Free Science, One Paper at a Time

24. Neurotribes (Steve Silberman): Woof! John Elder Robison, Living Boldly as a “Free-Range Aspergian”

25. Not Exactly Rocket Science (Ed Yong): The Renaissance man: how to become a scientist over and over again

26. Observations of a Nerd (Christie Wilcox): Why do women cry? Obviously, it’s so they don’t get laid.

27. The Occam’s Typewriter Irregulars (Richard F.Wintle): Genome sequencing, Shakespeare style [combined with] Genome Assembly – a primer for the Shakespeare fan

28. Oh, For the Love of Science! (Allie Wilkinson): The distance between your testicles and your anus, ‘taint unimportant

29. Pharyngula (PZ Myers): Dear Emma B

30. PLoS Blogs Guest Blog (T. Delene Beeland): Saving Ethiopia’s “Church Forests”

31. The Primate Diaries (Eric Michael Johnson): Freedom to Riot: On the Evolution of Collective Violence

32. PsySociety (Melanie Tannenbaum): Sex and the Married Neurotic

33. Puff the Mutant Dragon (“Mutant Dragon”): Sunrise in the Garden of Dreams

34. Reciprocal Space (Stephen Curry): Joule’s Jewel

35. Sciencegeist (Matthew Hartings): I Love Gin and Tonics

36. Scientific American Guest Blog (Casey Rentz, Natural Selections): How to stop a hurricane (good luck, by the way)

37. Scientific American Guest Blog (Cindy Doran, The Febrile Muse): Tinea Speaks Up—a Fairy Tale

38. Scientific American Guest Blog (Deborah Blum, Speakeasy Science): A View to a Kill in the Morning: Carbon Dioxide

39. Scientific American Guest Blog (Andrea Kuszewski, The Rogue Neuron): Could chess-boxing defuse aggression in Arizona and beyond?

40. Scientific American Guest Blog (David Manly, The Definitive Host): Mirror images: Twins and identity

41. Scientific American Guest Blog (Rob Dunn): Man discovers a new life-form at a South African truck stop

42. Scientific American Guest Blog (Jeremy Yoder, Denim and Tweed): The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Natural Selection and Evolution, with a Key to Many Complicating Factors

43. Scientific American Observations (George Musser): Free Will and Quantum Clones: How Your Choices Today Affect the Universe at its Origin

44. Skulls in the Stars (“Dr. Skyskull”): Mpemba’s baffling discovery: can hot water freeze before cold? (1969)

45. Superbug (Maryn McKenna): File Under WTF: Did the CIA Fake a Vaccination Campaign?

46. There and (hopefully) back again… (“Biochembelle”): In the shadows of greatness

47. This May Hurt A Bit (Shara Yurkiewicz): Fragmented Intimacies

48. The Thoughtful Animal (Jason Goldman): Rats, Bees, and Brains: The Death of the “Cognitive Map”

49. Uncertain Principles (Chad Orzel): Faster Than a Speeding Photon: “Measurement of the neutrino velocity with the OPERA detector in the CNGS beam”

50. Universe (Claire L. Evans): Moon Arts, Part Two: Fallen Astronaut

51. The White Noise (Cassie Rodenberg): How addiction feels, the honest truth





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  1. 1. JeanneGarb 4:28 pm 12/7/2011

    Bora – thanks for the shout out here! It’s a wonderful list and I’ll be thrilled to get myself a copy this year!!

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