In December 2006, the pioneering science blogger, Bora Zivkovic, met with his colleague, Anton Zuiker, to work on plans for the first Triangle Science Blogging Conference. They decided to try putting together an anthology of the year's best science blog posts and ask their conference sponsor, Lulu.com., to publish it as a handout for conference attendees.
Fast forward to this year: Zivkovic is the science blog editor for Scientific American and the conference has become one of the hottest tickets in science communication (Science OnLine 2013 begins January 30 in Raleigh, N.C.). And what began as The Open Laboratory 2006 has evolved into the first of a series of high-caliber trade books titled The Best Science Writing Online 2012, published by Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
"Both in terms of production and in terms of the quality of writing produced by the rapidly expanding and maturing science blogosphere, this is the best collection yet," writes Zivkovic, the series editor, in the inaugural edition, which is out today. The guest editor for the first book in the series is Jennifer Ouellette, who writes the outstandingly good Scientific American blog, Cocktail Party Physics.
"There is poetry," Ouellette writes. "Savvy reportage and critical analysis of new scientific papers. In-dpeth profiles. Personal reflections. Humor. Thoughtful commentary on science and social issues. Careful explication of complex scientific concepts written in accessible language. And yes, there are long-form features and investigative journalism. Above all, there are stories — drawn from history, popular culture, the laboratory and personal experiences."
From its incarnation until its current version, the science blogging anthology has featured 50 writers and their work. In the spirit of transparency, I'm one of the writers featured in this edition, which is why I happen to already have the book sitting on my desk. But also in the spirit of transparency, it's the work of others in this collection that really dazzles me.
There's DeLene Beeland's lovely, compassionate piece about saving the "church forests" of Ethiopia; Aatish Bhatia's smart and hilarious "What It Feels Like For A Sperm"; Biochem Belle's ethically shadowed portrait of Fritz Haber; Rob Dunn's incredible "Man Discovers A New Life-Form At A South African Truck Stop"; Maggie Koerth-Baker's elegantly clear explanatory study of nuclear power plant operations in the wake of Fukashima; Puff the Mutant Dragon's fantastically written "Sunrise in the Garden of Dreams", about the lethal nature of organophosphate pesticides. There are well-known stars of science writing – David Dobbs, Carl Zimmer, Ed Yong, Maryn McKenna, Ann Finkbeiner, Kate Clancy, Christy Wilcox – and there are rising stars.
I can't tell you how many times that I read a piece in this collection and thought, "I wish I wrote as well as that." And also "I wish I'd written that." But I can tell you that the book is a compelling, illuminating, addictive journey through science and science story telling. And I can also tell you that it's a testament to the way science blogging has grown up in the years since that first North Carolina conference and become a place where you will find some of the best science writing not just online – but anywhere.