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Who are the best science writers?

This is becoming a bit of a meme. It started when T. Ryan Gregory decided to post a list of good science writers in an attempt to balance the Internet’s readiness to slate dodgy science writing with a shout out to the ones who do it well. Brian Switek, himself a worthy addition to Ryan’s list, took up the baton and asked his readers to name good science writers.
I want to do the same. This blog has always been about highlighting good science rather than crushing its darker pseudoscientific counterpart, so it seems only fitting that we should take some time out to celebrate decent writing.
And there’s loads of it about. So tell me – who are the best science communicators? Given the nature of this blog, please restrict your answers to people to are exceptional at explaining science to a non-specialist audience. Don’t limit yourself to bloggers – let’s hear it for jobbing journos, big name science writers, broadcasters, and so on.

31 thoughts on “Who are the best science writers?

  1. I think Sir David Attenborough needs to be on any list; not fundamentally a writer, but few if any have done as much to bring the actuality of the natural world, and a totally scientific view of it, to the general public.

  2. well, i do think that darren naish over at TetZoo has a very accessible style.
    david quammen rocks. Song of the Dodo is incredible!
    and barry lopez is one of my all-time favorite non-fic writers, period.

  3. I echo your sentiments; I think there are plenty of people out there on the bad science mission, but I prefer to write about recent papers that I come across that really pique my interest.
    With regards you question, I always quite liked the work of Carl Zimmer. I actually only came across his work a few years ago as I’d been eagerly following the work of Richard Lenski and his long-term evolution experiment with E. coli. Zimmer wrote a nice account of the work in the New York Times, which Lenski himself was pretty happy to link to from his lab homepage.
    I could make a huge list of others whose work I like, but I’d be interested to see what other people say first.

  4. I love the writing of Natalie Angier, Carl Zimmer, and John McPhee. Elizabeth Kolbert’s Field Notes from a Catastrophe is great. And amongst journalists who write for newspapers, I like my near-neighbor, John Fleck, who writes for the Albuquerque Journal.

  5. I’ve recently re-discovered Olivia Judson. I think she is brilliant in the way she explains the hard-core problems of evolutionary biology by using funny examples, but without loosing the important point. Both her NY Times blog and the book Dr. Tatiana’s is brilliant. I have yet to see the TV show, though.

  6. I´d say Brian Sykes.
    He knows how to spur the interrest of a non-proffessional reader and make it a totally enjoyable experience to follow his “Detective work”.

  7. For me, the champion will always be the late Isaac Asimov. He wrote a science column for decades in sci-fi magazines, and a wealth of science-for-the-layman books of his own. I owe my love of science–and most of my knowledge of it–to him.

  8. Science writing is a joy to read when the writer’s love of the subject shines through. I know of no better example than the Bad Astronomer, Phil Plait. His wild enthusiasm for science is infectious.
    I’m not sure if an animated podcast is strictly on-topic, but I have to give props to the first episode of the new CreatureCast. If the rest are like this we are in for a treat.

  9. I’ll second Darren Naish of the Tetrapod Zoology blog, and Barry Lopez, author of Arctic Dreams. But I’d like to call attention to Charles Q. Choi, of NatGeo, Smithsonian, etc., and Elio Schaechter and Merry Youle of the Small Things Considered blog. And Ed, of course.

  10. Michael Crichton and Richard Dawkins. Of course, a few people have said Richard Dawkins is hard reading, and I tend to go towards the technical stuff a little…

  11. dilong:
    to the best of my knowledge, crichton wasn’t a science writer but rather a science-Fiction writer. he was an entertainer, not an educator. i think that’s a valid distinction. (asimov did both, and equally well.)

  12. Thanks Kat (and Ed in comments on Laelaps) for mentions! A few thoughts of my own (not by any means exhaustive, there is loads of good stuff out there):
    Mainly journalists (a UK bias here): Steve Connor, Ian Sample, James Randerson, Andy Coughlan, Linda Geddes. And Fiona Macrae at the Daily Mail does a fantastic job
    Mainly bloggers: Ed (of course), Daniel MacArthur, Brian Switek, Vaughan Bell.
    Mainly authors: Sean B. Carroll (Remarkable Creatures is the best thing I’ve read this year), Dawkins, Diamond, Matt Ridley.
    Mainly all three: Carl Zimmer.

  13. Meant to add about Fiona Macrae — the Mail may have a bad rep on science, but Fiona does an excellent job of ensuring so far as is possible that the science, with caveats etc, is as well-represented as she is allowed to.

  14. Some older writers still worth reading: William Beebe, Alister Hardy, James Fisher.
    Asimov’s Encyclopedia is I think his best work.

  15. All of the above (except Crichton… and nice to see Asimov well remembered, he’s the reason I learned to like physics…). I’d also suggest a handful of authors who I envy for their ability to discuss science-related topics in a more general context, even when I don’t agree with everything they say (all North American):
    – Atul Gawande
    – Wade Davis
    – Steven Johnson
    – Michael Pollan
    – Barbara Kingsolver (both her fiction and non-fiction)

  16. George Johnson, formerly of New York Times, now freelance.
    John Horgan, formerly of Scientific American , now at Stevens Center for Science Writings.
    Both are very good at communicating with the layman.

  17. A couple of my personal favorites are Brian Greene (mentioned above somewhere), and Gregory Stock. Excellent and highly accessible writings in their respective fields. Greene writes on physics, and Stock on genetics. They also both write about science in general.

  18. This is a good idea! I like having new leads to follow. Compiling an exhaustive list would be, well, exhausting, as would explaining my choices, so I’ll just add a few I like, with the emphasis mostly on pop science. Some have been mentioned already.
    Oliver Sacks, Richard Feynman, David Attenborough, Arthur Koestler, Gregory Bateson, Frans de Waal, Jean Henri Fabre, Robert Anton Wilson, Elisabet Sahtouris, Thomas Kuhn, Edward O. Wilson, Gordon Rattray Taylor, Lee Smolin, Michio Kaku, Paul Davies, Ben Goldacre, Lynn Margulis, Theodosius Dobzhansky, Carl Zimmer, Paul Martin, Lyall Watson, Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Dawkins, Antonio Damasio.
    Not many women in that shortlist, unfortunately. I’ve read books by e.g. Susan Greenfield, and Lisa Randall, but they didn’t make the cut…

  19. can’t believe no one bothered to mention Jennifer Ouellette (unless I missed it); and couple of others I like but didn’t notice above, K.C. Cole and Charles Seife.

  20. I have to second the nominations of Sacks and Feynmann, and I would add Carl Sagan and Jared Diamond. As an Aussie, I should also toss in Tim Flannery, Stephen Juan, Karl Kruszelnicki, Chris KP and ‘Einstein a Go Go’ (Triple R radio).

  21. Many good names listed. I’d like to add Michael Shermer (Scientific American columnist), and George Monbiot (UK columnist and book author). Not bloggers in the traditional sense, but I want to include Dr. Ken Miller (biologist) and Peter Sinclair (youtube Crock of the Week climate videos). Dr. Miller is an enlightening speaker (see youtube and HHMI’s biointeractive evolution lectures) who knows how to take complex science and teach it to lay people. Peter Sinclair also is a good educator and provides references so you can search for yourself.
    Ed Y is also excellent, but that’s my biology background bias coming out. 🙂

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