Longreads Best of 2015: Science

We asked a few writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in specific categories. Here, the best in science writing.

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Carl Zimmer
New York Times columnist and science writer.

Famous Berkeley Astronomer Violated Sexual Harassment Policies Over Many Years
(Azeen Ghorayshi, BuzzFeed)

This story exposed a long-running scandal in science, and it even brought about important changes. The subject of the story, a prominent astronomer at Berkeley, left the university, and astronomers in general began to look seriously at sexual harrassment’s toxic and chronic effect on their community.

The Really Big One (Kathryn Schulz, The New Yorker)

Kathryn Schulz introduced the world to a huge natural disaster that will arrive sooner or later—a massive earthquake in the northwestern United States. She turned her impeccable reporting into a relentlessly readable thriller.


Justin Nobel
Freelance science writer based in New Orleans.

Erasing Mossville: How Pollution Killed a Louisiana Town (Heather Rogers, The Intercept)

This story is a rusty knife to the jugular. Heather Rogers spotlights a Louisiana community made sick by the petrochemical industry. Unfortunately that’s a common tale, but this story digs deeper than other pollution stories. In the end, Rogers conveys in stunning detail how an overlooked branch of our own government has misused science to promote a dangerous agenda. The story stood out for me because it carefully illustrates how science can be hijacked by powerful agencies and corporations, a trend that is poisoning our nation and desperately needs exposure.

The Forgotten Students, and Eroding School Districts, of California’s Drought (Mareesa Nicosia, The Seventy Four)

Mareesa Nicosia takes three of the country’s most burning issues—agriculture, immigration, and education—and shows how they are all perilously linked to the California drought. The drought was surely one of the most significant environmental stories of the year, and no long-form story I saw contained such a novel hook. The storytelling style is arresting and relentless, it leaves the reader desiccated. You are there with these students, the children of immigrant farm workers, on their parched vacant playgrounds.


Francie Diep
Science writer at Pacific Standard.

The Internet’s Hidden Science Factory (Jenny Marder and Mike Fritz, PBS)

I love how this story takes a notion that’s pretty technical—does a common behavioral science study volunteer recruitment method render the studies moot?—and makes it real. And it’s so real: The types of studies this story talks about are often the ones that journalists say can apply to people’s personal lives, and to policy. (I’m guilty, too!) Anyone who ever reads anything about the social sciences should know how their sausage is made, and “The Internet’s Hidden Science Factory” tells you just that.

Plus, it’s great to learn so much about a “Mechanical Turker.” How often do you read science stories where you get to learn about the participants, as well as the researchers? Study participants are the secret heroes of science, and I hope I never forget it.


Longreads Editor’s Pick: Julia Wick

@sherlyholmes

What to Do With Dead Bodies in Space (Daniel Oberhaus, Slate)

This piece is totally weird and wonderful. As humans start planning longer space missions, we are faced with a thorny dilemma: what should be done with an astronaut’s body if he or she dies in space? Oberhaus tackles the unique methodological and ethical questions with gusto, weaving together history, scientific hypotheticals, expert opinions, and a cornucopia of extremely excellent details. I only wish it were longer.