Bryn NelsonBryn Nelson is a Seattle-based freelance writer and editor with an avid interest in biology, biomedicine, ecology, green technology, and unconventional travel destinations.

Before becoming a journalist, he received my PhD in microbiology from the University of Washington in Seattle, analysing a protein that helps ferry sugar into bacterial cells, making it a potential model for studying similar proteins linked to cystic fibrosis and multi-drug resistance to cancer. He has a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California at Santa Cruz, and subsequently joined Newsday as a member of the science desk, spending seven years writing extensively about genetics, stem cell research and cloning, evolution, ecology, and conservation. He was one of four principal writers on the award-winning, 13-part “Long Island: Our Natural World” series, which they subsequently converted into a field guide. He also wrote “Saving Bobby,” a multiple award-winning, 12,000-word feature about the frantic effort to save a toddler whose father had accidentally driven over his head.

Bryn previously wrote Medicine's Dirty Secret for Mosaic.

Twitter: @SeattleBryn

What is your feature about?

My feature is about how children can be harmed by the poor environmental health conditions within many portable classrooms and other schoolrooms, why it’s taken so long to recognise the danger, and how the green building movement is increasingly linking well-wrought classrooms to the wellbeing of both students and the environment.

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

I was really surprised by the history of classroom design, especially by how some early and forward-looking efforts to maximise daylight and fresh air were later undone by assertions that classrooms didn’t need windows at all, and misguided efforts to make buildings more airtight to increase their energy efficiency. The sheer difficulty of studying the negative effects of classrooms on children also surprised me, as well as the involvement of kids themselves in some recent efforts to reinvent these spaces.

Read Bryn's new feature on Mosaic from 4 November 2014.

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It’s Open Access Week this week, celebrating the free, immediate, online access to the results of scholarly research, and the right to use and re-use those results as you need.

We’re big fans of the concept. Our parent charity is a big advocate, our website is built on open source software, and of course all Mosaic's content is available free under a Creative Commons licence.

As we’ve said before, one of our goals for Mosaic is to make these stories available to as wide an audience as possible: anyone, anywhere no matter how or where they care to enjoy them. Our Creative Commons license is part of this. We didn’t know if it would work, but so far it has.

Our stories (and their Extras) have been republished by over 30 different publications so far, from BBC Future, CNN, The Guardian, Pacific Standard, The Atlantic and New Statesman, to Gizmodo, Ars Technica, Jezebel, Mama Mia, New Republic, The Oslo Times, Australian Doctor, Scroll and The Hindu. (You can see a full range on our Pinterest boards)

Lots of republishing again this week under our #CreativeCommons license :) #reading #sharing #science #journalism
Lots of republishes and highlights of our story, Why do we have blood types?, yesterday #digg #bbcfuture #gizmodo #arstechnica
Our story about #humanhibernation republished on CNN
Lots of views on our #gizmodo reprint #isitpoo? #faecaltransplants
#menstrualtaboo republished by #pacificstandard
Henry Nicholls republish of his Jane Goodall interview doing well on his Guardian blog. Love his headline too :)
Our first republish of a republish. New Republic pick up Killer Dust via New Statesman. That makes it doubly new?
New Statesman picks up Rose George's #menstrualtaboo piece http://bit.ly/1cQT2BK
#killerdust already picked up and front page of New Statesman today.

We’ve seen the vast majority of republishing done online, but some stories have been reproduced in print, including The Week, The Observer Magazine, Readers Digest and four in the Independent and Independent on Sunday magazine. 

Roger Highfield's Mosaic story in print in Independent on Sunday today. It's an extract - visit mosaicscience.com for the full story + 3 extras.
Thanks to The Observer for republishing an edited version of our South Africa obesity story in print. Read the full article on mosaicscience.com
The mind readers in #print in The week!
Patrick Strud's interview with Françoise Barré-Sinoussi in print in The Independent today. You can read online at mosaicscience.com #HIV #AIDS #womeninscience

Blood types Mosaic piece in The Independent

We’ve also had some of our stories translated – into Spanish, French, Polish and Hungarian.

Polio in Readers Digest

Mosaic Alzheimers Enigma in RageMag

It’s not just our text features. We host our films on YouTube to make sharing and embedding easy, and these have been taken up by The Guardian and Gizmodo among others. Our films also aired on UK television thanks to the Community Channel.

Pain Detective on Gizmodo

Often, the places that republish our work have completely separate audiences, perhaps explaining why publishers aren’t squeamish about content that may have appeared elsewhere. Our conversations with publishers and authors indicate that the content has been highly successful for them, bringing in plenty of traffic and greater exposure to the writer's work. We estimate that our stories have reached at least three times as many people compared to keeping them just for own site, and as we’ve noted before the level of engagement and quality of comments is higher this way.

We’d like to think it's also because of the quality of the stories themselves, which fits with one of our other aims for Mosaic: to provide high-quality, in-depth, well-reported and thoroughly fact-checked science articles that many media organisations haven’t the resources to produce themselves today. If we can help with this, then we all win: as writers, editors, publishers and, above all, readers.

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I often listen to music when I'm working. While I was editing Emily Anthes' piece about eating insects I realised that Throwing MusesBuzz was coming through my earphones. It seemed an apt song to have playing as I read about how mealworms, locusts, bees and more might become an important foodstuff for humans and livestock. I wondered how many more songs (loosely) related to entomophagy we could think of.

So, unleash the earworms: check out our much anticipated, entotaining, locust [low-cost], unbeelievably eclectic playlist here:

Gnaturally this isn't every song with an insecty flavour, so comment below or tweet us on the hashtag #earworms to let us know the creepy crawly hits or acts you'd add.

Thanks @copy_matt, @gileshnewton and @ayasawada for your help!

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Emily Anthes

Emily Anthes covered car accidents and local crime for several daily newspapers before she discovered that there were journalists who wrote about science for a living. Now she spends her days covering genes, brains and behaviour. Her book, Frankenstein's Cat: Cuddling up to biotech’s brave new beasts, was published last year. Emily has degrees in science writing and the history of science and lives in Brooklyn with what may actually be the world’s cutest dog.

Twitter: @EmilyAnthes 

What is your feature about?

My story is about the potential use of insects as human food and animal feed. There's been a parade of headlines over the past year declaring insects to be "the food of the future". In this story, I go behind this general pronouncement to figure out what it might really take to build a food system around insects. Are insects safe to eat? How sustainable is insect-rearing really? And will anyone actually eat these things?

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

I was surprised to learn that due to some regulatory quirks, it might actually be harder to get insects into animal feed than onto human plates. The EU laws regarding animal feed were clearly not designed with insects in mind.

 Read Emily's feature on Mosaic from 14 October 2014.

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Our monthly round-up of stories that have got the Mosaic team thinking.

Plot twist: how a hero narrative can transform the self (Aeon)

Will Storr’s tale features larger-than-life characters and explores how our brains make sense of the world through telling a story – our own. Full of fabulous prose and interesting ideas, we debated whether the author’s introduction of his own story added or distracted from the piece, and whether the ideas held together as a whole.

Sky burial (Oxford American)

A fascinating visit to a body farm reveals much about our reaction to death, as well as those studying it. It features a wealth of background detail, but is it a bit too long? Might it have benefited from a fewer characters and a tighter focus on the body farm narrative?

This old man (New Yorker)

A 93-year old journalist writes about the world from his perspective. We loved this because it was just as you’d imagine an old man talking at you would be – almost a stream of consciousness but one shaped by the flair and sharp tongue of a writer with over 60 years’ experience.

China’s island factory (BBC)

Another of the new age of interactive multimedia stories, this time from the BBC. You get some great insight from the videos and maps, but we argued about whether the judder of moving through different media distracted from the narrative flow of the piece.

The Sunni-Shia divide (CFR)

Another multimedia offering and a really in-depth look at a historical, but also very contemporary, conflict.

Films

Finally, we watched three very different approaches to online films: a Discovery Channel-style film about evolution from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the New York Times’ animated take on microbiology, and a poetic film about Scotland from Aeon Film. We had discussed likes and dislikes about each. Which do you prefer?

What stories have caught your eye recently? Do share in the comments.

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Barry J GibbBarry J Gibb's odd career began as a molecular biologist and neuroscientist but he succumbed to creative urges and started freelancing as a hybrid filmmaker and writer. After several documentaries for Channel 4 (Life After Coma) and the BIMA Award-winning 'Routes', he became the Wellcome Trust's Science Multimedia Producer. In 2011, his 30 minute film Until won the Imagine Science Film Festival's Nature People's Choice Award. His book, The Rough Guide to the Brain, is now in its second edition. 

Twitter: @barryjamesgibb

What is your film about?

Insects in the City is about the subtle yet vital relationship between urban humans, bees and other pollinating insects. And we’re not talking honey bees. This film’s about the 250 or so species of wild bees we’re largely oblivious of – and would die without. Trudging through the concrete, smartphone transfixed, rush hour it’s very easy to forget we’re not the only ones populating a city. But as the global population grows, urban environments reach further and farms become more intensive. We’re encroaching on the pollinators habitats so much, they need to move into ours in order to survive.

But this isn’t a hand-waving film about all the bad we’re doing to the planet - it’s a fun exploration of the work being done by a team of passionate scientists systematically studying precisely where and how bees live in our cities so we can all take little steps to ensure their, and our, survival.

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

Honey bees are the only bees that make honey. Boom! That fact alone blew my mind. This was quickly followed by the startling revelation that there are so many different types of wild bees. Prior to this film, I’d have struggled to list anything beyond honey and bumblebees.

But, as I was making the film, the most unexpected discovery was the gentle, beatifically fragile interdependence we have with nature; the realisation that what’s good for bees on a practical level, is very good for humans on a psychological and, dare I say, soulful level.

Watch Insects in the City on Mosaic, premiering 7 October 2014. See a sneak preview on our Facebook page

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Ben Gilbert

Ben Gilbert on the ethical dilemmas facing photographers out in the field.

I was sent to India to photograph for a story on rural to urban migration for Mosaic. I had never been to India before but knew of it as a ‘country of extremes’. Following the footsteps of migrants would, in some cases, inevitably involve following the economic ladder from slum living upward and at this end of the extreme I wasn’t entirely prepared for the choices I would have to make.

Although the story centered on a couple of research projects in Delhi and Hyderabad, the brief was extremely broad and allowed for a great deal of personal interpretation. As we were essentially looking at the movement of people and all the infrastructure that surrounds it, there would be nothing throughout our own travels that wouldn’t be relevant subject matter: airports, hotels, train stations, food outlets. It was impossible to clock off.

Ben Gilbert
Ben on location in India

Photography is inherently exploitative.  You ‘mine’ the environments – and more questionably the people around you – and you package them up into hopefully aesthetic or engaging tableaux that illustrate, inform and mislead in equal measure.  There is always the grey area of permission to be navigated – implicit, explicit or simply unknown. This becomes all the more difficult when the people you are framing in the viewfinder are living in abject poverty, and the camera and lens in your hands probably represents several years if not a decade of their income.

We visited several slums in both Delhi and Hyderabad and they were without question challenging places. To photograph, however, wasn’t problematic. I was physically close to the people I was photographing who, for the most part, were continuing with their day. It was easy for me to see if they were happy to be photographed and easy for them to signal that they weren’t – and they did on many occasions. There was nothing covert about the photography. Thanks to our guides and reporter Michael Regnier’s questions there was a basic understanding of our intentions and motivations. Photographing in the slums raised clear questions in my mind concerning social injustice and the hardships facing people living on very low incomes, but didn’t raise any doubts about whether or not I should be photographing there.

Ben Gilbert

It was on a couple of other occasions that my ability to take a photograph was stalled. We travelled a great deal by car throughout our trip and as a result a fair number of my photographs were shot from the car window. Whilst travelling though Delhi early one morning on our way to the airport we drove passed a line of very small children, facing the traffic, squatting over pools of diarrhoea. In itself a powerful image, one that would have possibly added to the story of slum living and health in the Indian capital. From the rear passenger seat of our car however, it was for me, a step too far; too explicit, too degrading and too fleeting for me to have any confidence in my justifications for photographing.

Another occasion was a closer call. Again sat in the back seat of our car, again in Delhi. Our car was a classic Hindustan Ambassador complete with a couple of tied back net curtains over the rear windows.  We pulled up at a set of traffic lights and the weathered face of a woman dressed in scarlet approached Michael’s window, hand outstretched. She stopped a few centimeters from the glass and peered in at us as we sat in awkward silence. The image was a striking one, her questioning face and outstretched hand framed in the net curtains and Michael’s forward facing silhouette available if I chose to include it in the frame. I felt my hand tighten around the grip of my camera and the muscles in my arm tense in preparation of raising my arm.

I didn’t. I froze. Our car pulled away. Within seconds I regretted it and was slightly thrown by what had stopped me. In a selfish photographer way, I hoped the scene would re-occur and I would get a second chance. It did, more than twice. Each time, however, my reaction was exactly the same.

The rights and wrongs of my reaction to this scenario from either a photographic or non-photographic viewpoint aren’t clear to me. There are many photographers and non-photographers who would have taken the shot and been very happy and at ease to have done so, and this is in no way to judge those that would have. What is interesting to me is that I personally had been unable to take the picture. It was a close call and in my head the shot was already on its way, something residing in my gut however stopped it. Perhaps a weakness I shouldn’t reveal.

On later reflection it seems the emotions I subconsciously anticipated feeling were a mix of shame and cowardice. The privileged safety of the metal and glass box that separated me from these peoples’ reality was problematic and in stark contrast to the physically close and more equitable encounters I had had with those I photographed in the slums or out on the street.

From the scarlet dressed woman’s viewpoint, being met with blank expressions through a glass window is one thing. To be met by someone taking your photograph is an insult I guess I just wasn’t able to issue.

Ben Gilbert

Ben Gilbert is a photographer at the Wellcome Trust.

See Ben’s photos on Mosaic.

Photography: Michael Regnier

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MIchael Regnier
Michael on location in India. Image: Wellcome Images/Ben Gilbert

Michael Regnier is a staff writer at Mosaic. Michael previously worked as a writer for the Medical Research Council and as a press officer for the Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research UK.

As well as a degree in natural sciences, he has a Master's in science communication, which included a brief stint helping to develop public exhibitions at CERN.

Before writing about science for a living, Michael wrote plays and he looks forward to writing more fiction and drama when he is less deprived of sleep thanks to his two young daughters.

Twitter: @mpr2020

What is your feature about?

It's about individuals responding to global changes. Most people would agree that cities are less healthy than rural places, yet millions of people around the world continue to move to urban areas – usually to find work, make a living and live a better life, despite believing that their health will suffer as a result. So I went to India to meet scientists working on a project that will track people from 29 villages, already at varying degrees of development, to see how their health is affected by changing diet, air quality, physical activity and so on. The aim is to understand exactly what it is about urban lifestyles that damages our health, and to reduce that damage and make urbanisation safer. But I also met some of the villagers, and asked them about the choices they face as their villages develop and as the call of the 'unhealthy' city becomes ever stronger.

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

It was my first visit to India, and everyone had warned me it was going to be a massive shock to my system. We were only there for a week, and it was a whirlwind trip, always on the move from Delhi to Hyderabad and back, from town to suburb to countryside, but I was surprised by how much it wasn't shocking. India struck me as a very pragmatic nation. People don't seem to get hung up on making things perfect, as long as they are good enough. In a country of over a billion people, this seems to make sense. Of course, it creates problems when one person's 'good enough' puts a lot of other people at risk, such as in the slums, but as a general rule, good enough is good enough. (The biggest surprise was probably that you can find really top-class Italian cuisine in Delhi – which says more about my preconceptions than it does about India. It was obviously no surprise at all that you can get a fantastic biryani in Hyderabad.)  Read Michael’s feature in Mosaic, publishing 30 September 2014.

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Patrick Strudwick

Patrick Strudwick writes about politics, social issues, health and celebrity for a wide range of titles including The Times, The Independent, The Guardian and the Mail on Sunday. He has won several awards for his interviews and investigative journalism.

Twitter: @PatrickStrud 

What is your feature about?

Most stories in the press over the last few years have painted a very positive picture of being HIV positive, with comparisons routinely being made with diabetes. This piece unearths the many untold complexities and issues still facing sufferers – the physical, psychological, social and financial. Told through the eyes of four people, with wildly different experiences, and with commentary from some of the UK's leading HIV experts, this feature is a snapshot of life with HIV in the UK today, behind the rosy headlines.

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

The sheer depth and scope of problems experienced by people in 2014 because of the virus came as a shock: poverty, stigma, mental illness and health problems far more devastating than anything I had previously read about. One issue, however, rang out – that the single most damaging issue is isolation. With help, with support, with care, human beings are remarkable and resilient, but with shame and exclusion we cannot overcome. It is so clear in the fight against HIV that it serves as a reminder for us all: judge not, include more, reach out.

Read Patrick’s feature on Mosaic, from 23 September 2014.

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Comment of the week
Comment on a Mosaic piece on Gizmodo.

Pig farms in Indiana to Brazilian street gyms, hospital wards to the rainforests of south-east Asia.

We’ve trained and run a marathon, cycled around seven cities and the Cambodian countryside, tried to improve our brains with drugs and electric currents, probed female condoms and faecal transplants, explored life, death and the spaces in between, met the girls who don’t age (and people trying their best to do the same), we’ve had conversations with leaders in the fields of HIV research, psychology and animal behaviour; we’ve puzzled over dementia, polio, asbestos, mental illness, malaria, hibernation, developmental biology, cystic fibrosis, blood groups, stem cells and more.

It’s been a busy six months.

But what have we learned since we launched, and what does this mean for the future?

1. CC-BY works

Our articles are published under a Creative Commons licence, which means that anyone is free to reuse and republish them under certain conditions. Obviously, we hoped that people would take and share our stories, but we did wonder how widely this would happen. Would a particular publication be put off running something if it had already been published by another?

It doesn’t seem so. Our stories have been republished by over 30 different publications so far – everything from the The Oslo Times to Australian Doctor to The Hindu. We’ve seen the vast majority of republishing done online, but some stories have been reproduced in print, including four in the Independent or Independent on Sunday magazine. Often, the places that republish our work have complementary or completely separate audiences from each other.

We’ve also had some of our stories translated – into Spanish, French, Polish and Hungarian. Our films were shown on the Community Channel.

The Mosaic site has had over 800,000 unique page views since launch, from over 220 countries. We estimate that our stories have reached at least three times as many people through republishing as through our own site.

2. Death to TL:DR

From the very start, one of the principles of Mosaic was to tell in-depth stories. We want Mosaic stories to have a compelling narrative and to give context – some meat on the bones of a particular issue, topic or phenomenon. We let the story dictate the length, but what it means generally is that all of our articles are at least 3000 words long (and the longest, so far, is over 9000 words).

Do people read stories of this length? It’s hard to tell from our stats how many read right through to the end, but we do know from comments on republishers’ sites and social media that many people are engaging deeply with the text – sometimes, it seems, in spite of themselves.

 …I was disappointed by how well written and researched this article is. I don't visit Gizmodo to improve my brain... But I read the article and tried to wrap my head around the problem. I wish the best for everyone developing this sort of product. [Gizmodo republish of Emily Anthe’s piece on female condoms]

 Didnt expect to be so enthralled by this but I was [Gizmodo republish of Kat Arney’s piece on Alan Turing]

 Fascinating article. I wish the site featured more articles of this length and depth. [Guardian republish of Mo Costandi’s article on developmental biology]

 3. People aren’t put off by “difficult” issues

Sometimes people’s reactions to hearing that I work on a “science publication” is to screw up their faces and say that that kind of thing is too hard for them. Rubbish. Nothing’s too hard for anyone to understand, as long as it’s explained using appropriate language and presented in the right context.

We know from the range of publications that have reproduced our stories that people will read great stories as long as, well, they’re great stories (even if they are about *whisper* neuroscience, genetics or even developmental biology…)

While we’re on the topic of difficult topics, we’ve been really encouraged by the response to some of the more taboo subjects we’ve covered. For example, we were passionate about publishing Rose George’s piece on menstrual taboo, but were also aware that it could be a hard sell to some audiences. We needn’t have worried. It was featured on sites as diverse as the TED blog, New Statesman and Boing Boing. It got over 340,000 reads on women’s interest site Jezebel. Sharing stories that people haven’t heard before, even if they’re painful, upsetting or disturbing is important to us - you can read more about why we cover these kinds of stories here.

As we move into the next six months and beyond, we’ll be continuing to tell fascinating, thrilling and sometimes shocking stories about how science and medicine affect our lives. We’ll be exploring some new ways of presenting stories online, as well as working with the best new and established writers, photographers and illustrators. (Details here on how to pitch to Mosaic.)

Let us know what you’ve liked and not liked over our first six months in the comments below, or Tweet us @mosaicscience.

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emma youngEmma Young is an award-winning science and health journalist. A former reporter and editor on New Scientist, working in London and Sydney, she now freelances from an attic in Sheffield. As E L Young (in the UK, Emma in the US), she is also the author of the STORM series of science-based thrillers for kids. 

What is your feature about?

It's about how to make children more psychologically resilient, and better able to cope with the stresses of day-to-day life.

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

That some schools have embraced the concept of resilience-building so wholeheartedly, and with such apparent success. I found one particular school in East Harlem, NYC inspirational. It made me wonder what kind of a difference these strategies might make to my own young kids, and to life at their school in the UK.

Read Emma’s feature on Mosaic, publishing 16 September 2014.

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Penny SarchetPenny Sarchet is a reporter at New Scientist and lives in London. She has covered subjects as diverse as nanotechnology, smart electricity, synthetic organs, frog communication and the plight of British ladybirds for publications including The Guardian, The Sunday Telegraph, Nature, BBC Focus, Science Uncovered, Cosmos, Research Fortnight and Times Higher Education.

She was a winner of the 2011 Wellcome Trust Science Writing Prize in association with the Guardian and the Observer, and has a doctorate in genetics and development.

Twitter: @pennysarchet

What is your feature about?

My friend Rob’s experiences of both living with cystic fibrosis and participating in medical research into his disease. Twenty-five years after discovering the gene responsible, scientists may be close to a cure.

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

I already knew that patients, families and scientists form a supportive CF community, but I was really struck by a pattern of mental strength and resilience across all those involved – it takes focused dedication and stoic self-discipline to live with or work on CF.

Read Penny’s feature on Mosaic, publishing 2 September 2014.

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Mo CostandiMoheb Costandi trained as a developmental neurobiologist and now works as a freelance writer. His work has appeared in Nature, New Scientist, Science, and Scientific American, among other publications. He also writes the Neurophilosophy blog, hosted by the Guardian, and his first book, 50 Human Brain Ideas You Really Need to Know, was published last year.

Twitter: @mocost

What is your feature about?

It's about development and regeneration. It focuses on the work of Yoshiki Sasai and his colleagues at the RIKEN Centre for Developmental Biology in Kobe, Japan, who have developed a method for growing embryonic stem cells in 3D suspension. Combining this method with knowledge of developmental biology, they can coax the cells to organise themselves into complex tissues, such as eyes, glands and bits of brain, putting them at the cutting edge of regenerative medicine.

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

Since writing the feature, I've learned that the RIKEN CDB faces closure because of the STAP cell fiasco. This was not only unexpected, but also very saddening, because Sasai's team, and other groups at the institution, have done a lot of admirable work over the years.

Read Moheb’s feature on Mosaic, publishing 26 August 2014.

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Our monthly round-up of stories that have got the Mosaic team thinking.

The many poses of Marcel Marceau (the Paris Review)

An interesting portrait with a good narrative and lots of lovely turn of phrase. The piece uses the historic present tense throughout, which led to us having a discussion about the use of different tenses in writing.

You’re 16. You’re a pedophile. You don’t want to hurt anyone. What do you do now? (Matter)

An attention-grabbing headline and a story about a subject written from the perspective of the potential abuser. This piece is great, but includes a quite graphic description of child pornography. Matter have published a blog post explaining their reason for including it here.

The best-selling, billion-dollar pills tested on homeless people (Matter)

A great investigative piece but does it take too long to get going? Some of the team felt it included a few too many case studies, which made some parts feel a bit repetitive.

A first-time skydiving experience, a fall to Earth and a terrible accident (Sports Illustrated)

A well-written story about what seems a straightforward, albeit nasty, experience. We spoke about how it is simply structured but composed in a way that makes it compelling.

The chameleon (The New Yorker)

An almost unbelievable story. Beautiful prose, though the ending left some of the team feeling a little unsatisfied. Were there perhaps too many threads to the story?

Connecting prisons with nature (Aeon film)

A short (7 min) film about a prison whose inmates are working with scientists.

Cathedrals (Aeon film)

A beautifully filmed short (15 min) piece about an abandoned city in China, though some of the the team debated whether the narration worked.

What stories have caught your eye recently? Do share in the comments.

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Ed YongEd Yong is an award-winning science writer. His blog Not Exactly Rocket Science is hosted by National Geographic, and his work has also appeared in Wired, Nature, the BBC, New Scientist, the Guardian, the Times, Aeon, Discover, Scientific American, The Scientist, the BMJ, Slate, and more. He lives in London with his wife. 

Twitter: @edyong209

What is your feature about?

It's about a woman, an extreme athlete with no scientific background and two separate genetic disorders, who identified a gene that underlies them both. It's about how she did it, what it takes to do something like that, and why it might get easier in the future.

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

That you should not drive through Baja at 1 in the morning after a very long flight. And I learned who Rodney Mullen is.

Read Ed’s feature on Mosaic, publishing 19 August 2014.

Read Ed's previous Mosaic feature, 'How malaria defeats our drugs'.

Kat ArneyDr Kat Arney is a science writer and broadcaster living in London – not so much the female Brian Cox, more the Nigella of science. By day she is a science communicator, award-winning blogger, podcaster and media spokesperson for the charity Cancer Research UK. By night she writes for outlets such as the New Scientist, the Guardian and the BBC. She has presented several science documentaries on BBC Radio 4, co-presents the Naked Scientists BBC 5Live radio show and podcast, and presents and produces a monthly Naked Genetics podcast.

Kat is currently working on her first book, Herding Hemingway's Cats, to be published by Bloomsbury Sigma, and plays harp and other instruments with the bands Talk in Colour and Sunday Driver in her spare time. She is also one of the “Top 10 Brits who make science sexy”, according to BBC America, and doesn't sleep much.

Twitter: @harpistkat

What is your feature about?

It's a story about understanding how patterns are created in nature, from the stripes on a zebra's back to the fingers in our hands. It starts with paper published by computer scientist Alan Turing in 1952, putting forward mathematical ideas to explain these patterns. And it ends with a recent paper from a team of researchers in Spain, who have finally identified the molecules that interact to create the digits in mouse paws and proved that Turing's ideas are at work, after many years of being rejected by the established scientific community.

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

I was surprised by how much the original choices of model organism – chicken and fruit fly – affected subsequent decades of research and prevailing ideas in the field of limb and embryo development, which worked against Turing's ideas and those who promoted them. I know that science is not always the purely reason and evidence-based discipline that it is made out to be – certain personalities and ideas come to dominate, even when they may not necessarily be correct. But even I was surprised by how strongly some of these “Just So Stories” had been accepted as dogma, and how difficult it was for scientists with alternative ideas about pattern formation to get them accepted. In the end the data has to win out, but it's a long and dirty fight along the way. 

Read Kat’s feature on Mosaic, publishing 12 August 2014.

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Yoshiki SasaiThe scientific community was shocked this week by the death of stem cell researcher Yoshiki Sasai, who apparently committed suicide in the wake of a high-profile case of scientific fraud. Two papers from the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology (CDB) in Kobe, Japan, where Sasai had worked – co-authored by him and published in the journal Nature in late January 2014 – described a simple method for converting mature cells into embryonic stem cells, called stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency, or STAP.

It seemed too good to be true – and it was. The findings were challenged and other labs tried but failed to replicate the method. The lead researcher was found guilty of scientific misconduct, and in July both of the papers were retracted. Sasai himself was cleared of any involvement in the misconduct, but the lead researcher did the work under his supervision, and so he was criticised for oversights while the papers were being written up.

I had been working on a feature article for Mosaic about regenerative medicine and Sasai’s work. Earlier this year I visited his lab as part of my reporting for the article – by coincidence arriving at the CDB the day the STAP method hit the news, and so found myself competing with several film crews for his attention. As a result, my visit to the lab was cut short, and I spent far less time there than had been planned. Nevertheless, I managed to interview Sasai and two of his colleagues and take a look around.

The story was originally scheduled for publication this month, and my editors at Mosaic have decided to go ahead and publish it on 26 August. While the story is not about the scandal, we felt that it would be strange not to mention recent tragic events, while at the same time keeping it from overshadowing the real focus of the story. So, apart from a few small changes and the addition of a brief epilogue, it is unchanged.

I spent less time with Sasai than I had hoped, but he struck me as a very proud man, and the remarkable work being done in his lab gave him every reason to be. So I do not doubt reports that he had felt "deeply ashamed" about the STAP cell papers, and the disrepute they had brought to RIKEN, in the weeks leading up to his death. During this time, an independent committee had recommended that the CDB be dismantled, and Sasai's mental and physical health had by then suffered considerably, so I feel doubly honoured to have visited him there when I did.

Sadly, many of the news stories about his death have focused on the unfortunate circumstances that mired the last few months of his life. Mosaic’s staff and I send our deepest condolences to Sasai’s family and friends. We hope that that the Mosaic story will serve as a tribute to the pioneering work of an outstanding scientist.

Mo Costandi

You can read Mo’s feature on Mosaic from 26 August 2014. 

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We have been working closely with the Community Channel to broadcast our films. As a result, during August, Last Chance Saloon, abNormal, The Pain Detective and Until will all be available to watch on TV (only in the UK, sadly).

Here’s a full itinerary of all the films and their broadcast dates.

The Community Channel can be found on:

Freeview 63 (or high definition on 109 with the right receiver)
Freesat 651
Sky 539
Virgin Media 233

Last Chance Saloon
Ep1 – Monday 4 Aug @ 7pm (repeated 10:30pm)
Ep2 – Tuesday 5 Aug @ 7pm (repeated 10:30pm)
Ep3 – Wednesday 6 Aug @ 7pm (repeated 10:30pm)
Ep4 – Thursday 7 Aug @ 7pm (repeated 10:30pm)
Ep5 – Friday 8 Aug @ 7pm (repeated 10:30pm)
Ep6 – Monday 11 Aug @ 7pm (repeated 10:30pm)

abNormal
Thursday 21 Aug @ 10pm
Thursday 28 Aug @ 10pm (repeat)
Friday 29 Aug @ 11pm (repeat)

Until
Friday 22 Aug @ 10pm
Friday 29 Aug @ 10pm

The Pain Detective
Tuesday 19 Aug @ 11pm
Thursday 28 Aug @ 11pm

Of course, all these films are also available to watch in full, anytime, for free on the Mosaic YouTube channel and Facebook page.

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Barry J GibbBarry J Gibb's odd career began as a molecular biologist and neuroscientist but he succumbed to creative urges and started freelancing as a hybrid filmmaker and writer. After several documentaries for Channel 4 (Life After Coma) and the BIMA Award-winning 'Routes', he became the Wellcome Trust's Science Multimedia Producer. In 2011, his 30 minute film Until won the Imagine Science Film Festival's Nature People's Choice Award. His book, The Rough Guide to the Brain, is now in its second edition. 

Twitter: @barryjamesgibb

What’s the film about?

Until is a celebration of life seen through the lens of death. It’s a film that explores some of the most recent thinking about how and why humans age the way we do. But, the psychology of human ageing is a wonderfully rich playground; some of us dream of immortality, some of us are content to live in the moment, while others still are happy to acknowledge the conclusion of a rich, varied and full lifespan.

Until wanders into all of these territories by asking people how long they’d like to live. Not because it wants to brood on death but because, by questioning a person’s motives for wanting more (or less) life, it opens doors to deeper truths about how we perceive our limited time on earth, and about how we give life meaning.

What did you learn that you didn’t expect?

From a film-making perspective, this was a true baptism. You can have the best-laid plans when it comes to making a documentary but ultimately, it depends on what people say (I never use voiceover). I knew that there was the kernel of a good film amongst the footage I'd shot, but it wasn’t until I'd worked with the fantastic teachers and children of Eleanor Palmer Primary School in North London that I knew there was something special.

The wisdom of children is mind-blowing. Unfettered from expectations, inhibitions and self consciousness, they inhabit a beautifully clear mental space in which anything goes. Many of their answers to ridiculously deep questions, were startlingly honest and thoughtful. And amazingly, not so different from the answers provided by some of the world’s leading researchers into the science of ageing . Now that, I did not expect!

Watch Until on Mosaic, from 5 August 2014.

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Our monthly round-up of stories that have got the Mosaic team thinking.

This month’s selection was loosely held together by the theme of ‘story’: what does the team consider to be a story and can we find examples we liked. We discussed how a story is quite strongly affected by the confines of a person’s chosen medium. A filmmaker might feel strongly that a good story needs a human at its heart, a protagonist whose experiences can be followed. A writer, however, may feel the journey of an idea or an exploration of a subject, handled well, can form a perfectly good narrative journey.

The Drug Revolution that No One Can Stop (Matter)

There were numerous ways in to this exploration of the history, and contemporary fears surrounding the emergence of homemade drugs. It actually felt like three different stories in one, woven together: a history of synthetic drugs, the work of David Caldicott (an expert on such drugs) and finally a story in which the writer attempts to both synthesise and import an entirely new drug.

Life, After (New York Magazine)

A fascinating feature about Miles O’Brien and the unbelievable bad luck that led to him losing his left arm. The power of this piece lies in its sparse, simple style; something that was echoed throughout by its use of straightforward photography.

Nature’s Most Perfect Killing Machine (Random House in Canada)

Leigh Cowart’s use of language has a genuine sense of fun, finding imaginative means more reminiscent of horror than a science story to describe the visceral, bloody mess human beings will find themselves in as they succumb to the Ebola virus.

What stories have caught your eye recently? Do share in the comments.