Since its inception in 2010, more than $400,000 has been awarded by NASW's Idea Grants program for projects that benefit science writing and its practitioners. Read more to see a list of all the awardees and their exciting science writing projects.
“Is genetic knowledge empowering or fear-inducing, or both? Will it heighten the anxieties of already hyper-anxious helicopter moms and dads, always waiting for the genetic shoe to drop? … Will it stress parents out or make them savvier?” — Bonnie Rochman poses these questions in The Gene Machine, as she explores not only present and potential advantages of genetic screening of fetuses and children, but also its drawbacks.
Slack and similar collaboration tools are growing in popularity, but journalists and their organizations should think twice about using them for sensitive work, because they're vulnerable to both hackers and litigants, Quinn Norton warns: "Don’t ever say anything on Slack you don’t want read aloud in front of a 72-year-old Alabama judge in federal court." Norton suggests some safer alternatives that use encryption or don't retain old records.
A Harvard geneticist announced that he is going to produce elephant embryos with mammoth genes, and more than 60 news stories had headlines like "Woolly mammoths to walk the Earth again." John Hawks says that more than just exaggeration was involved: "Journalists who actually dug into these numbers would have to cover this story very differently. Who would click on a story with an accurate headline? 'Forty-five mammoth genes in elephant cells, more than 4000 to go!'"
Tom McNichol interviews Ron Rosenbaum about his 1971 Esquire story on an early network of hackers who built "blue boxes" to make free phone calls: "Rosenbaum’s article is the rare magazine story that not only chronicled history, it also shaped it. A tech enthusiast named Steve Wozniak read Rosenbaum’s piece, and then showed it to his friend Steve Jobs. Before long, the two collaborated on building and selling their own blue boxes."
About those seven Earthlike planets orbiting a nearby star: They're neither nearby nor especially Earthlike, Tabitha M. Powledge writes: "Not to denigrate the scientific achievement, which is noteworthy for its novelty and sophistication … But let’s bring a little reality to the boisterous celebration attending the revelation that astronomers have discovered at least 7 'Earthlike' planets orbiting the 'nearby' star TRAPPIST-1." Also, a mini-march for science at AAAS.
If you thought Excel and similar spreadsheet managers were just tools for sorting data and doing simple arithmetic, you might learn something from this tutorial by John Wihbey and Leighton Walter Kille, who show how to get more advanced statistics like standard deviations and confidence intervals: "Quick calculations are handy, and can help you in a deadline situation, but it’s always better to really dig into the numbers, even when you have a small amount of time."
Scientists and professionals at research institutions eager to inform the public about their work need to go where the readers or, increasingly, the viewers are. Instead of driving traffic to their websites, a panel of public information officers, editors, and journalists recommend creating science content specifically for use on Snapchat, Facebook Live, Twitter, Tumblr, and other social media outlets.
Just when you thought you had it covered with Facebook and Twitter comes news that the fastest growing social media network is now Instagram. Frances Caballo has some tips for writers on getting up to speed: "The easiest time to post is right after you take a picture or create one. You can also plan your posts. According to Later, a scheduling application for Instagram, the best time to post is between 2 a.m. and 5 p.m. EST, with 5 p.m. being the most opportune time."
The Craigslist founder talks to Ken Doctor about his foundation's plan to spend another $3.5 million on news and information philanthropy, on top of $2.5 million he's already committed to Wikipedia for an anti-harassment initiative and other uses, and to the Poynter Institute for an ethics chair: "This is the start. At this point, it’s incumbent on me as an ultra-patriot to spend like a sailor on shore leave."