National Geographic

Celebrating female science bloggers

There’s an animated discussion in the making about female science bloggers. It started in the wake of an excellent session on women bloggers at ScienceOnline 2011, and has led to several thoughtful posts on the issues that they face, self-promotion, dealing with sexism, and more. I’ve talked at length about the self-promotion side of the discussion but more recently, the theme of visibility (or rather invisiblity) of female bloggers has emerged.

Stephanie Zvan makes the good point that many female bloggers are noticed only when they write navel-gazing posts about female bloggers. She summarises thus: “If you want us to be recognized as science writers, engage with our science writing.” It’s a fair challenge. I read a lot of female bloggers. I promote their work on Twitter and on my weekly list of links. But this is a good enough opportunity to single some people out for special mention, and hopefully do a little more than the usual promises of supporting one another and so on.

So this is a list of women bloggers who I think you should read, with specific reasons why I think you should read them, and some of my favourite posts of theirs to get you started. And note, this is not a list of top female science bloggers; it’s an all-female list of top science bloggers.

Rebecca Skloot is already science-writing royalty but it’s always worth repeating that The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was easily the best popular science book of the last decade. She found a story that absolutely needed to be told, pursued it tenaciously, and narrated it with flair, style and accuracy. That she has won accolade after accolade for it no surprise. Her blog is understandably focused on the book, but the archives are fertile ground for other great offbeat topics, such as assistance animals.

Alice Bell knows a ridiculous amount about science communication and brings insight and evidence to an area where most people are content to rant and whine. Always thought-provoking and knits a hell of a scarf. I think I’ve plugged virtually everything she’s written at some point, but go on, some picks: taking journalism upstream, a post on the fascinating bomb-builder, museum-maker and balloon-launcher Frank Oppenheimer, and a serious look at science jokes.

Jennifer Ouellette is the only writer who has made me care about maths, through her book The Calculus Diaries. It’s a difficult field which sets a tough baseline, but Jen vaults it. Her style is funny, brisk and immersive – check out these posts on buckyballs or this one on mucus, slime, hagfish, Ghostbusters and Buffy, and outside her own blog, this recent smackdown in a thread on science jargon.

SciCurious has taken the conversational nature of blogging and run with it, producing a hilarious, offbeat neuroscience blog that amuses and informs in equal measure. Sci recently figured out she was awesome when the rest of us had known it for ages. Her primers are still some of the best intros to neuroscience around, and let’s not even start on the Friday Weird Science posts.

Maryn McKenna is a journalist specialising on infectious diseases. Her blog (which really should be called Typhoid Maryn, but instead is called Superbug) is home to eye -opening science of the Skloot mould – the type that everyone else should be reporting but no one actually is, and all beautifully told to boot. Don’t miss this incredible story about a surprising 1918 autopsy, this one on “vaccine-derived polio”, and anything involving the terrifying NDM-1

Deborah Blum is a Pulitzer-prize winner and author of The Poisoner’s Handbook. Her blog, Speakeasy Science is a literary playground, where Deb experiments and tinkers with different writing styles and story forms, fusing linguistic alchemy with the topic of chemistry. Don’t miss this personal post on cigarette-smoking, or this calendar of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Mary Carmichael is currently binge-learning about genetics as a Knight Fellow. In this field, her stuff is some of the best science journalism out there, including this classic 6-part series about her quest to decide whether to do a personal gene test, and this profile on Harvard geneticist George Church. Also, because some people have forgotten, she was the one who broke last year’s story on the dodgy “longevity genes” Science paper. She blogs at Wild Type.

Emily Anthes is a freelance writer whose blog, Wonderland, lives up to the name. It’s home to wonderful nuggets from all around the Internet and I guarantee you’ll find stuff here that you won’t see in other blogs, including the bizarre phenomenon of practice babies, a tadpole taste test, and the now infamous line “And now for the cobra”.

Kate Clancy is an anthropology professor whose strong, measured and insightful writing kick-started this latest round of reflection on female science bloggers. With her young blog, Context and Variation, she’s one of the few female bloggers on this list who blogs largely about female issues. Don’t miss this series of posts on IVF and pregnancy, grounded in research and personality, or this Scientific American guest-post on the reality of menstrual cycles.

Petra Boynton is a sex researcher and self-professed evidence-based agony aunt. You know all the crazy writing about sex that floods the media? Petra shows you what that would actually look like if it was filtered through a brain, an evidence base and some writing skills. Read her for the wonderful take-downs of terrible sex coverage and the science behind such topics as filbanserin and sex education.

Sheril Kirshenbaum wrote one of my favourite science books of the last year – The Science of Kissing. It’s a whirlwind tour through an instantly relatable topic, told with warmth, pace, and a perfect balance of accuracy and accessibility. Book aside, Sheril’s one of my fellow Discover bloggers, and heavily involved in science policy.

Gaia Vince gave up a job editing news for Nature to travel the world, collecting first-hand stories about biodiversity and the impact of climate change on the world’s developing countries. Her blog is a marvellous piece of unique photojournalism – try these posts on reforesting the desert in Peru, the death of a Bolivian village and an attempt to paint a mountain.

Christie Wilcox is one to watch – a scientist and science writer whose accessible and enthusiastic style has been growing for years. Have a look at this no-holds-barred analysis of a study on hidden messages in female tears, this post on  the evolution of oddly shaped dogs, and her experience on becoming a citizen journalist during a tsunami warning.

Miriam Goldstein is an ocean blogger and part of the respectable contingent of Deep Sea News. Her stuff exemplifies some of the best material from scientist bloggers – humorous and personal bits interspersed with these thorough, authoritative (journalistic, but don’t tell her I said that) takes on the so-called “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”, the evidence behind (un)sustainable seafood and geoengineering.

Virginia Hughes, who I owe for two things: recruiting me onto ScienceBlogs and plying my screen with some truly great pieces of science journalism from brain scans in murder trials to synaesthesia to the difficult search for a prostate cancer marker. She also posts regularly on Last Word on Nothing.

Maggie Koerth-Baker heads up BoingBoing’s science pages, serving a great platter of entertaining science. She’s generous about showcasing stuff across the internet, and her bespoke features are always worth a read – see this one on cephalopods and my favourite one on Antarctica.

Sophia Collins isn’t quite a blogger, which is a bit like saying that a Ferrari isn’t quite a bike. She’s one of the masterminds behind the inspirational I’m a Scientist, Get Me Out of Here programme, and she recently wrote two very brave and moving posts on abortion.

Andrea Kuszewski gave me one of my more enjoyable and thought-provoking chats at ScienceOnline 2011, on blogging as a platform for new ideas. Read her Scientific American guest-post on chess-boxing for an example of this, or her blog Rogue Neuron for more.

I’m scratching the surface here, with not enough time to go into Janet Stemwedel’s funny ethical musings, Melody Dye’s razor-sharp writing on languages, Jess Palmer’s unqiue tour through the overlap between art and biology (OCTOPUS CHAIR!), Jenny Rohn’s lyrical insider’s look at the life of a scientist, Ann Finkbeiner’s sublime writing on Last Word on Nothing, Bec Crew’s singular take on science news, Kat Arney’s sterling efforts at the charity I work for, Biochembelle’s brilliant look at the nature of greatness through the lens of Fritz Haber, Eliza Strickland‘s relentless curation of the day’s news at Discover, Hannah Waters who won an award of Best New Blog last year and it’s not hard to see why, and new blogs by seasoned journos like Claire Ainsworth, writing on the ecology of cheese, or Hillary Rosner, writing on orang-utans and the threats they face.

These are the names that came to mind after a minute of list-making. There are many more I’ve undoubtedly forgotten (sorry, sorry), many people I interact with on Twitter whose blogs I really ought to read, and many awesome professional science journalists who I decided to leave out for arbitrary inclusion criteria.

Look, there’s loads of them and many of them are superb. Want more? Try this comprehensive view of the female science blogosphere. But really, this will work best if you go and explore for yourself. The point of this post was to help calibrate the spotlight.

Feel free to add more below. But try and stick to the format. If you like someone’s work, say why and give some examples for the rest of us to try out. And feel free to expand on any of the portraits I’ve sketched out above.

There are 37 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Naon Tiotami
    January 27, 2011

    Curse you, Ed, curse you. More blogs to add to my feed reader… *grumble grumble*

    I can vouch that, for the ones I already read, these are excellent science blogs. :D Really, really good ones.

    *joins in on the salute*

  2. Maryn
    January 27, 2011

    Honored to be in their company. Thank you for shining the spotlight.

  3. Razib Khan
    January 27, 2011

    nice list. some familiar faces, and some not so familiar (at least for now).

  4. Razib Khan
    January 27, 2011

    also, i’m gonna add someone, michelle of c6-h12-06.

  5. Andrea Kuszewski
    January 27, 2011

    What a thoughtful post, and thanks for the mention! The chat with you at Science Online was a bit of a pivotal moment for me–it let me know that I wasn’t *completely* crazy in my approach to science communication. It makes me happy to know there are other writers out there who value sharing new ideas and inspiring the public as much as I do. As a fairly new blogger, that meant a lot to me. I left Science Online very inspired and motivated, and our chat had a lot to do with that….so thank you. :)

  6. Jen
    January 27, 2011

    Abbie Smith – ERV – for making me laugh while learning about viruses.

    And while she doesn’t blog about science, she does blog about what it’s like being a female scientist…so I have to mention Female Science Professor. Has really given me great insights on what I’m getting into in academia.

  7. Steven Colyer
    January 27, 2011

    Sabine “Bee” Hossenfelder of Backreaction.

  8. Ed Yong
    January 27, 2011

    @Razib @Steven et al – Please can you also give some sort of description and a link to specific posts rather than just the entire blog. I don’t want this to turn into yet another list of female science bloggers. I want this to turn into a list of women science bloggers with clear reasons why people should go and read them. And in my mind, it’s much easier to catch onto a new blog if you look at a specific post, than if you just get sent the general URL.

  9. Ed Yong
    January 27, 2011

    Oh and if you put in several links, you’ll be held in my moderation filter until I rescue you. Which I will.

  10. Steven Colyer
    January 27, 2011

    Sure Ed. Bee is a 29+X years old Physicist working in the cutting edge field of Quantum Gravity. She shares the blog with her husband, Stefan Sherer, also a PhD. in Physics, although Bee writes 90% of the articles, i.e., posts. They have been running the blog for 4 plus years now. George Musser, Science and Astronomy editor at Scientific American, lists Backreaction as one of the “required” 4 blogs to read in cutting edge quantum gravity in his book “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to String Theory”, along with Sean Carroll’s Cosmic Varience, Peter Woit’s Not Even Wrong, and The Reference Frame.

    But she doesn’t just discuss Physics! Women in Science issues come up from time to time, as well as a whole host of issues regarding theoretical physics, science in general, life, the universe, and everything. She is engaging and writes well, is always interesting, and from the science perspective, the collection of her essays in the right hand column on science-specific subjects is a valuable resource.

  11. CoR
    January 27, 2011

    Thanks for this — there are many on this list that I will check out. However, I see a gigantic omission. Isis has been blogging 4eva about being a scientist and juggling a family: one of the major reasons that women leave the PI track is because they are given the impression that having a family and running a lab are not compatible. A good example of this epic problem (while yes, a vet student):
    http://scienceblogs.com/isisthescientist/2011/01/that_b_on_your_transcript_is_f.php
    Etc etc etc.

  12. Sheril Kirshenbaum
    January 27, 2011

    Ed, This is such a post (and I’m honored to be in such wonderful company). I’m encouraged that the discussion from our Science Online panel continues. Perhaps attitudes are changing, though we still have a long way to go. You continue to be an inspiration.

  13. Lilian Nattel
    January 27, 2011

    I, also, wonder how I’m going to find the time for all the blogs I’ve added to my reader–but I will–and I’ve posted the link to my blog too.

  14. Jaxs
    January 27, 2011

    Can’t believe you’d leave out PLoS’s Sarah Kavassalis from The Language of Bad Physics! Sarah is a young theoretical physicist working with general relativity who writes about all the hot papers in her field, and related areas (like astrophysics and high energy) as well as issues of bad science communication and bad physics work. I think the main reason why Sarah is so popular is that she sticks to research blogging and doesn’t engage in some of the politics that other physics blogs seem drawn too. Read her take down of Shu’s terrible anti-big bang paper from last year or her This Week in the Universe series for the latest gravity related papers.

  15. Stephanie Z
    January 27, 2011

    Bug Girl doesn’t write as often as she should these days, but if didn’t already think bugs were cool, you will after following her for a while. In addition to gorgeous pictures and fun bugs in pop culture, she’s always on the spot when someone is getting things wrong about bugs and health. She straightened out some bad reporting on mosquitoes being repelled by dryer sheets, and the references she put together when DDT and malaria came up recently were concise, readable, and informative.

    And as long as I’m plugging Skepchicks blogging somewhere other than Skepchick, I love Evelyn‘s Geology Word of the Week on Georneys. Ed should too, as it’s dedicated to taking jargon, one word at a time, and making it accessible to someone like me, who has no background in geology and gets a bit lost in the more in-depth posts.

    I could do lots more of these, and probably will later, but this is a start.

  16. Ed Yong
    January 27, 2011

    Just to clarify something: this isn’t meant to be a Top Whatever list. To me, the most important thing about this was that it should be honest. So it’s a list of excellent female science bloggers who I read. Which sadly leaves out many great people who I like and interact with but don’t read, people who blog outside my field of interests, people who I haven’t read recently, and so on.

    Not being on the list isn’t a slight to anyone, especially not to people like Sarah or Isis who I think very highly of. I meant what I said about running out of time and having to just cut it off at a point

  17. AR
    January 27, 2011

    Ed, thanks very much for this. SciCurious directed me toward a (long!) list of women science bloggers, and your commentary here is incredibly useful — gives a starting point for narrowing the search for high quality and interesting blogs. (Point taken, though, that it’s not a comprehensive list and that the search shouldn’t end here.)

  18. Sandra Kiume
    January 27, 2011

    I’ve been writing Channel N for years, with plenty of links and praise (eg. SciAm Mind), and used to be a SciBling at ScienceBlogs (for Omni Brain). What’s unique about Channel N is that it’s a video blog, with archives of hundreds of carefully curated educational videos on brain and behaviour. On Twitter I’m @channelNvideo. Unsurprised to be overlooked, and that you don’t read me.

  19. Claire Ainsworth
    January 28, 2011

    Hi Ed,
    Thanks for the mention and thanks for blogging about this important topic–your support is important and greatly appreciated.

    I’m lucky not to have experienced much sexism over the course of my career, but this may have something to do with me being 5’10” and having a killer right hook :) (I’ve also been fortunate to work alongside many wonderful, intelligent, fair-minded men). The main barrier I face is lack of time–not so much for writing blog posts, but for doing all the online networking needed to raise my profile.

    In my case, the lack of time is down to work commitments. But given that in many households, the majority of childcare/ housework is still performed by women (even if they also work outside the home) I suspect a lot of female bloggers, especially those with young families, find their domestic workload saps time and energy.

    So it’s great to see their profiles being raised in this way. Thanks again!

  20. Heather
    January 28, 2011

    And Rosie Redfield, of course, whose name and blog I will suggest to Martin Robbins as well. Thanks for the spotlight on his list.

    I’d recommend her blog because it is the brain dump – even, an open lab notebook – of a working scientist who runs a research group. Back in December, Rosie wrote a highly influential and thoughtful analysis of a recent paper in Science that helped draw a massive amount of attention to the fact that it drew erroneous conclusions, and she has now become a heroine of those who promote the power of peer review post facto.

    You’ve been a hero on a different scale a few times over yourself, lately, including rescuing hapless commenters from the spam filter. Well done.

  21. arvind
    January 28, 2011

    Great compilation, Ed! Thanks for keeping it honest based on what you actually read rather than going for some comprehensive or representative listing.

    I’d like to add Dr. Danielle Lee as my suggestion. She is an awesome science blogger who happens to be a woman of color, and consequently faces an additional layer of invisibility. She seems to somehow get left out of the lists every time the issue of women bloggers and visibility comes up in the science blogosphere.

    If memory serves me right, Dr. Lee played a crucial role in birthing the Diversity in Science Carnival back in Feb 2009.

    Her post on Charles Henry Turner, a pioneering, barrier-breaking scientist of color (earning a PhD in 1907!!) is one of my favorite posts:
    http://urban-science.blogspot.com/2009/02/charles-henry-turner-animal-behavior.html

    These days, she’s also blogging at Southern Fried Science:
    http://hiphopevolution.southernfriedscience.com/

  22. biochembelle
    January 28, 2011

    Ed, this is fantastic! Knowing why people are reading blogs (with links to favorite posts) is much more beneficial to writers and readers alike than a quick link in the side bar.

    I Can Has Science?, written by Sharon Neufeldt, a PhD student in organic chemistry came up on my radar recently. Sharon’s writing is fun, informative, and accessible for a broad audience. Being immersed in chemistry and biochemistry for over a decade now, I love how she explains the chemistry behind broader research, such as why arsenic might provide a reasonable substitute for phosphorous, and the chemistry in everyday life, like
    why methylene glycol in Brazilian Blowout means you’re actually putting formaldehyde on your hair. She also has some neat pieces about the history of and life in science, including and 1880s perspective on women and science.

    After seeing this, it makes me think it might be a good idea for less visible bloggers such as myself to put up an ‘intro’ post with our favorite and/or popular pieces to show passersby why they should keep coming back to our blogs.

    Oh, and thanks for highlighting my Haber post :)

  23. Sophia Collins
    January 28, 2011

    All I can say is thank you Ed, I’m honoured.

    And also echo what Naon Tiotami said. Curse you, like I don’t have enough to read already!

  24. Scicurious
    January 28, 2011

    Thank you so much Ed!! Awesome company I am in.

    I would second the recommendation for Danielle Lee. She has two blogs, one of which is aimed at younger audiences and science in urban environments, which is a fantastic form of outreach to minority audiences: http://urban-science.blogspot.com/

    And her other, more recent blog takes recent scientific work and uses hiphop and other types of music to really make it relevant and memorable. http://hiphopevolution.southernfriedscience.com/

    Fantastic stuff.

  25. KBHC
    January 28, 2011

    “After seeing this, it makes me think it might be a good idea for less visible bloggers such as myself to put up an ‘intro’ post with our favorite and/or popular pieces to show passersby why they should keep coming back to our blogs.”

    biochembelle, this is a great idea… especially because, yes, more people should be reading your wonderful blog!

    Ed, thanks both for this list, the intent and idea behind it, and for being kind enough to include me. I would really like for us to continue to expand this conversation, especially to include other underrepresented bloggers, so last night I finally finished my post on the MLK Jr #scio11 session: Underrepresentation hurts us all.

  26. Lab Rat
    January 28, 2011

    See this is why I would rather tear my own teeth out than write a blog post about being a female scientist, or a female science blogger. I really want to be a *science* blogger, not a women-in-science blogger. Also so many women have written really excellent posts about the subject and there’s not more I can add except “yeah…what they said…”

  27. Eliza Strickland
    January 28, 2011

    Thanks for the mention, Ed. Since I mostly edit & do behind the scenes stuff for Discover I don’t usually chime in on these debates — but I follow them closely. And I’m excited to start reading some new blogs.

  28. SteveF
    January 28, 2011

    The Age of Wonder was the best popular science book of the last decade I reckon:

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Age-Wonder-Romantic-Generation-Discovered/dp/0007149530/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1296231960&sr=8-1

  29. Gaia
    January 28, 2011

    Thanks Ed, and what great company I keep! Brightened up an otherwise difficult day :)

    ps, you’re in my all-male list of top science bloggers!

  30. Scicurious
    January 28, 2011

    Lab Rat, what you said really struck a chord with me “this is why I would rather tear my own teeth out than write a blog post about being a female scientist, or a female science blogger. I really want to be a *science* blogger, not a women-in-science blogger.” Because it implies that, if we write about women in science, we become less of a REAL science blogger, and that some people will take us less seriously. That’s a really, really sad thing.

  31. Gaythia
    January 28, 2011

    Ed, this is a great compilation of bloggers, and I am sure that I will find some new favorites here.

    Thanks for making this point: “And note, this is not a list of top female science bloggers; it’s an all-female list of top science bloggers.”

  32. Joe H.
    January 28, 2011

    Great post, bookmarked for future reference.

    And that’s really the goal for all of us, I hope, male and female. After the “rah-rahs” die down and the blogosphere’s attention moves on to something else, will you (not Ed, but everyone) still be Celebrating Female Science Bloggers?

    I’m going to do my damnedest, and I hope others will too. Let’s give ourselves a report card in a couple months and see how we do. It’s a goal.

  33. Kausik Datta
    January 28, 2011

    Excellent list, Ed: so many to add to my Google reader [Sigh! So little time]

    Two omissions from this list that I noticed off-hand were that of:
    (a) Tara Smith, of the Aetiology blog on Scienceblogs (admittedly she doesn’t write as frequently as before any more), had really excellent posts on Infectious Disease- and Epidemiology-related topics as well as science in general. Tara is an assistant professor of Epidemiology in U Iowa, and I, being in the Inf Dis field, have often found her posts informative and inspiring.
    (b) GrrlScientist, formerly of Scienceblogs, currently with blogs on Nature Network, Scientopia and the Grauniad. She is an ornithologist and evolutionary biologist, writing about evolution, ethology and ecology, as well as science in general, and has a popular column on identification of mystery birds on the Grauniad. GrrlScientist has had some setbacks to her professional life dealt by the system, but none of those have been able to crush her indomitable spirit and effectiveness of her science communication. She is truly amazing.

  34. Maggie Koerth-Baker
    January 28, 2011

    Wow, Ed. Thank you so much for including me on this. I’m pleased to be listed in such amazing company.

  35. Dana Hunter
    January 30, 2011

    Stephanie Zvan told me to leave a link to my Sunset Crater post, and one other of my choosing. Which is The Crash of Continents, the Whisper of Water.. Whilst I’m here promoting myself at her bidding, I shall take the opportunity to promote a few of my own favorites:

    Silver Fox, for those who haven’t discovered her from Ed’s link on the 29th, writes wonderful posts about American Southwest geology, and her 2010 Year of Traveling Meme is a great place to get to know her.

    Elli Goeke’s Life in Plane Light reminds me there’s still hope for college students, as she’s obviously a wonderful teacher – check out her corn syrup viscosity experiments.

    And Anne Jefferson at Highly Allochthonous is the best person to turn to for all things water and flood – see her Flooding on the flanks of Mt. Hood for an example.

    Thank you, Ed, for all that you do! You’ve been utterly amazing.

  36. Girlpostdoc
    January 31, 2011

    If found this great interview with Rosie Redfield that discusses women in science and the issues they face at The Molecular Ecologist. Check it out.

    http://tomato.biol.trinity.edu/blog/

  37. Eric the Leaf
    January 31, 2011

    In my opinion, Gail Tverberg and Sharon Astyk have the best blogs by females on the internet. But I guess you don’t read their ilk.

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