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Gaia VinceGaia Vince is a writer and broadcaster specialising in science and the environment. She has been the front editor of the journal Nature Climate Change, the news editor of Nature and online editor of New Scientist. Her work has appeared in newspapers and magazines in the UK, US and Australia, including The Guardian, Science, Scientific American and Australian Geographic. She writes for BBC Online and devises and presents science programmes for BBC radio. Her first book, Adventures In The Anthropocene: A journey to the heart of the planet we made, is out now. She lives in London and blogs at WanderingGaia.com

Twitter: @WanderingGaia

What is your feature about?

My feature is about the vagus nerve - a vibrant connection between the brain and the body's major organs. Recently, scientists have discovered that the vagus plays a vital role in the immune system and are attempting to control disease by hacking the nerve (as an alternative to administering drugs). I've written about these attempts and the patients undergoing pioneering treatments.

What did you learn that you didn’t expect?

I didn't expect such inspirational stories from the researchers and their patients, all of whose outcomes revolved around a hitherto unappreciated nerve. I think in the future, we'll be hearing a lot more about the vagus and other nervous-system treatments for common conditions.

Read Gaia’s feature on Mosaic, publishing 26 May 2015.

10 Comments

Rose EvelethRose Eveleth is a producer, designer, writer and animator based in Brooklyn. She's dabbled in everything from research on pelagic invertebrates to animations about beer to podcasts about fake tumbleweed farms. These days, she explores how humans tangle with science and technology.

Currently Rose is a columnist for BBC Future, the host and producer of the Gizmodo podcast Meanwhile in the Future, and the editor of Smithsonian’s Smart News blog. She’s also the founder and curator for Science Studio, the place to find the very best multimedia about science on the internet. In her spare time she makes paper automata and day dreams about hanging out with a pack of foxes. You can see more of her work at her website, and get in touch with her on Twitter, especially if you have a fox thing to show her.

Twitter: @roseveleth

What is your feature about?

My feature is about Brian Bartlett, an amputee who developed his very own prosthetic knee to get back on the slopes after everybody told him he couldn't. It’s also about the special insights that amputees have when it comes to designing prosthetics—they know what they want, and know what doesn’t work for them in a way that an able-bodied person simply can never fully understand. Brian is one in a long line of amputees who have invented incredibly innovative prosthetics, and I’m sure he won’t be the last to say “hey, wait a minute, I have a better idea.”

What did you learn that you didn’t expect?

Brian’s story is full of unexpected twists and turns, and I don’t want to give any of them away here! But I think the thing that most surprised me was how far back this kind of innovation goes. Some of the first prosthetics were developed and improved upon by amputees who had no training in engineering or medicine, but who knew that what they had simply wasn’t working for them. Looking through the early history of prosthetics, and some of the earliest patents, I found a whole trove of fascinating ideas about how to replace missing body parts. Some of them never came to be, but some of them totally changed the way we think about prosthetic devices even today.

Read Rose’s feature on Mosaic, publishing 19 May 2015.

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IMG_2524_BTS_Decomp_PetaBell3
Credit: @shedefeatsyou

Illustrating the decay of dead bodies without being too gruesome is a challenge, one met with gusto and originality by set designers Lightning + Kinglyface. We asked them how they came up with their ideas for the shoot.

When asked to be involved with the visuals for Mosaic's piece on the descriptive stages of decomposition, the passages of the human body through bloating, chemical reactions of gases, liquids and salts stood out to us: the fermenting sugars that produce gaseous by-products, the inflation and eventual deflation of the human body. This passing of chemicals and reactions between the body and the earth are all incredibly visually stimulating.

By taking something that is omnipresent and most human beings use daily – toilet paper – we wanted to represent the body and its ability to decompose entirely into the earth, enriching the earth and completing a cycle. The aim was to create sculptures that represent this transition using the toilet paper.

IMG_2524_BTS_Decomp_PetaBell1
Credit: @shedefeatsyou

We did this by combining salt crystals and leaving them to soak up coloured dyes in liquids before exposing them to various conditions including tanks of water on the day of the shoot. This way we could visually represent their decomposition over a period of time.

 

We worked with photographer Jess Bonham to develop our ideas and to make sure the final images were not only visually strong but also contextualized.

 

Shot 1 - Death

Making of the rolls_Lightning+Kinglyface and Jess Bonham1
Sketches © Jess Bonham and Process photos: © Lightning + Kinglyface

The toilet roll is a visual aid to illustrate the human body leaving the complex pattern of the living. Falling from the infrastructure of this precious thing we call life. Death is a tumble that happens to us all.

Shot 2 - Bloating

IMG_2524_BTS_Decomp_PetaBell2
Credit: @shedefeatsyou

The body will change form and shape as it decomposes. One of the first processes is bloating, the liquids in the body rise to the surface and start to leak out.

Shot 3 - Bursting

Making of the rolls_Lightning+Kinglyface and Jess Bonham2

The body slowly releases an intricate mixture of gases and liquids. Whilst remaining whole still, the outer layers of skin and delicate, fragile elements of the body peel away.

Shot 4 - Unravelling

Making of the rolls_Lightning+Kinglyface and Jess Bonham3
Sketches © Jess Bonham and Process photos: © Lightning + Kinglyface

 

The body is left to completely unravel giving itself to the earth and this is the point when colonisation can happen. The body is completely open to the elements.

Shot 5 - New life

New life begins from the nutrients left behind after a body completely decomposes. This shot represents the way the dead are still a part of the living through vital nutrients and much more.

See the final images in the Mosaic piece 'This is what happens after you die'.

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Will StorrWill Storr is a novelist and longform journalist. His stories appear in broadsheet newspaper supplements such as The Observer MagazineSeven Magazine (Sunday Telegraph), The Sunday Times Magazine and The Guardian Weekend. He is a contributing editor at Esquire magazine and GQ Australia. His award-winning radio documentaries have been broadcast on BBC World.

He has reported from the refugee camps of Africa, the war-torn departments of rural Colombia and the remote Aboriginal communities of Australia.

He has been named New Journalist of the Year and Feature Writer of the Year, and has won a National Press Club award for excellence. In 2010, his investigation into the kangaroo meat industry won the Australian Food Media award for Best Investigative Journalism and, in 2012, he was presented with the One World Press award and the Amnesty International award for his work for The Observer on sexual violence against men. In 2013, his BBC radio series ‘An Unspeakable Act’ won the AIB award for best investigative documentary.

He is also a widely published photographer, whose portraits of LRA survivors have been the subject of an exhibition at the Coin Street Gallery in London’s Oxo Tower.

Twitter: @wstorr

What is your feature about?

My story asks why so many men kill themselves compared to women, but what it’s really about is something called ‘social perfectionism.’ That’s different from the kind of perfectionism in which everything we do has to be of an incredibly high standard. Social perfectionism is when we fail to be the people that we believe other people expect us to be. That’s a slightly complicated notion so you might have to read that sentence again! It’s basically when we feel we’ve failed in the eyes of other people. Of course, we can be (and often are) wildly wrong about what we believe other people think of us, which is why social perfectionism can be so toxic. We can easily convince ourselves that, in the eyes of bosses and loved ones, we’ve failed in a thousand ways. But we’re often completely wrong.

This made a lot of sense to me, as contemporary thinking about the nature of the self is highly influenced by sociologist Charles Horton Cooley’s notion of ‘the looking glass self.’ This is the idea that we are what we think other people think we are. If Cooley was right, you can begin to understand just how powerful social perfectionism can be. If we actually are what we THINK other people think we are, and if we think they consider us to be a loser, then the belief that we actually ARE a loser becomes perhaps irresistible (you might have to read that last bit three times). 

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

Mainly, that my masculinity means something to me. That’s been such a surprise. I’ve never been a lad, I hated all the laddiness at school, and the ‘banter’ at some of the offices (and supermarkets) I’ve worked in. I don’t like sports and have always felt ambivalent about having the biceps of a seven year old. I’ve shrugged off the fact my wife out-earns me considerably and that I do 97 per cent of the housework. I always believed that this ‘crisis in masculinity’ was a bit ridiculous. Who cares if Dapper Laughs has a crisis? I want him to have a crisis. But the more you learn, the more you learn. Masculinity isn’t just weightlifting on a beach. Identity is crucial to psychological well-being and our culture tells us that, to even be considered man, you have to be a powerful, charismatic winner. Culture will shift, in time, but we’re in a period of great flux, with one foot in 1950s notions of masculinity and the other not knowing what it’s about to land on. For me, part of the fight of gender equality is accepting the idea that men can be vulnerable and in need of help. We’ve a way to go before society at large accepts this notion without a tut or a snigger.

Read Will’s feature on Mosaic, publishing 12 May 2015.

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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 in 2013.

Twitter: @mocost

Moheb previously wrote 'The man who grew eyes' for Mosaic.

What is your feature about? 

Death and decomposition. I drove around Texas and the Deep South to spend a few days at a funeral home, where I did some embalming, and to meet anthropologists, entomologists, and microbiologists who are studying how the human body decomposes. The feature focuses on how their work might eventually lead to new ways of estimating time of death more accurately, and on the ecological and thermodynamic aspects of decomposition.

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

That the process of dying often begins long before the moment of death. People who die naturally often begin to withdraw from the outside world one to three months earlier. They begin to spend more and more time sleeping while eating and communicating with others less. They then become increasingly irritable one to two weeks before death. They become disoriented, agitated, and confused, and may talk to themselves.

During this time, their body changes, too. Blood pressure decreases, their skin becomes pale and blue-ish, they sweat more, breathing becomes irregular, and they stop eating and drinking almost entirely. It's as if the body knows what is coming, and is preparing itself for the final stages of life. Then, days or hours before death, they often experience a surge of energy. Breathing becomes even more irregular, and blood pressure decreases further until the pulse is weak and hard to find. They may become restless, or completely inactive. In the minutes before death, they breathe "like a fish out of water" before losing consciousness for the last time.

Read Moheb’s feature on Mosaic, publishing 5 May 2015.

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Shaun Raviv twitter profileShaun Raviv is a freelance journalist. In March, he published an investigation into the connection between HIV, traditional healing, and a serial killer in Swaziland.

Twitter @ShaunRaviv

What is your feature about?

The ingenuity of Ghanaians in filling gaps caused by near-total government failure. In recent years, leadership in Ghana has been unable to provide even basic needs to many of its citizens. Luckily, Ghanaians are brilliant at finding ways to make up for the government's unfulfilled promises. In this case: selling water in plastic bags.

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

I knew sachets were everywhere, but I didn't know they were being produced across the street by my neighbours or by the church down the block, and I didn't know that they were being sold by the billions. Once I started writing about sachets, trucks carrying them would appear on every road I walked or drove. I began noticing them more and trying to note every brand I saw. It was impossible to keep track. And I began research for the story just as the electricity crisis in Ghana was hitting a new low, so I got to witness the direct effects of the country's crumbling infrastructure on sachet businesses.

Read Shaun’s feature on Mosaic, publishing 14 April 2015.

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

Message in a bottle (RTÉ Radio 1)

A slow-paced but endearing radio documentary about a chance encounter that developed into something much more complicated.

How Quincey ME changed American law and saved lives (Cult TV Times)

An interesting insight into the power of US showbiz personalities, even in the early 1980s, in politics as well as the media.

Peckham Pioneer Health Centre amateur films (Wellcome Library)

A series of silent footage from the 1940s. Captivating in spite of (or because of?) the lack of overarching narrative – simply a chance to watch people working and relaxing.

Albert Maysles (Guardian / Fandor)

A great documentary maker, Albert Maysles died in March 2015. The Fandor interview is manna for those, like our in-house media producers, who are familiar with his work; the Guardian film, from 2006, is more of an introduction.

‘Nobody cares any more’ (Guardian)

Jon Ronson in fine form, writing one year after Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 went missing.

The Fermi Paradox (Wait but why)

Highly readable, amusing and digestible science communication from this American website.

Welcome to Elgin Park (The Atlantic)

A ‘miniature’ story that incorporates light and dark shades in a sensitively filmed character study.

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

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Carl ZimmerCarl Zimmer is a columnist for the New York Times. He began his career at Discover, where he served as a senior editor from 1994 to 1998. Since then he has published a dozen books, including Parasite Rex and Evolution: Making Sense of Life, and he has written hundreds of articles for The New York Times and magazines including National Geographic, The Atlantic, and Scientific American. In 2003, he started a blog called The Loom, which is now hosted by National Geographic. He is, to his knowledge, the only writer after whom a species of tapeworm has been named.

Twitter: @carlzimmer

What’s your feature about?

A scientist’s theory that allergies are actually good for us.

What did you learn that you didn’t expect?

The scientist I profiled is named Ruslan Medzhitov. He first came to fame for helping to discover a new way that our immune system fights pathogens. But he actually reasoned that it should exist before he went looking for it in our immune system. I didn’t think that science could work like that. Now Medzhitov has come up with another idea to explain allergies, and he’s going to try to prove its right in the same way. It will be remarkable to watch what happens.

Read Carl’s feature on Mosaic, publishing 7 April 2015.

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Christie Wilcox

Dr Christie Wilcox is a freelance science writer and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa. She currently pens the award-winning blog Science Sushi for Discover magazine. She never knows how to describe her ‘beat’, which includes genetics, marine science, venoms, and just about anything biology-related that makes her gasp in amazement. In 2016, her first book, a popular science, non-fiction work about venoms, will be published by FSG/Scientific American. In her ‘free’ time, she's the (perhaps overly) proud parent of several fishes, including a comically cute porcupine puffer and a few genetically modified glofish.

Twitter: @nerdychristie

What is your feature about?

My feature is about the counterintuitive idea that venoms — which are considered to be deadly, harmful substances — may actually be the next great resource for game-changing pharmaceuticals. It's a topic very near and dear to my heart, as I have a special attachment to venomous animals from my dissertation work on venomous fishes and my continued postdoctoral research on venoms. I think snakes, spiders, and other venomous critters are often maligned, thought of as evil creatures that are harmful to other species, including ours. But these animals have so much to offer and are so important commercially, ecologically, and culturally.

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

Researching and writing this feature gave me a new appreciation for just how difficult it is to get a drug from compound to market. I tend not to think about all the hard work and time that goes into the various pills and liquids I pass when I'm walking down an isle at my pharmacy, but even the most common or benign-seeming drugs like Ibuprofen had to jump through a lot of hoops to make it onto those shelves. While I thought that I would be amazed by the animals and the usefulness of their venom compounds, I didn't expect to have this newfound respect for the words "FDA Approval"!

Read Chrstie’s feature on Mosaic, publishing 24 March 2015.

Sujata GuptaWhether discussing the cannibalistic ways of mantis shrimp or shaking the sticky foot of a male African clawed frog, Sujata reports on the strange world of science. She is particularly fond of writing about anything that involves science and food. Her work has appeared online and in print in The New Yorker, New Scientist, Nature, High Country News, Scientific American, Wired, Psychology Today, ScienceNOW, Earth Magazine, PNAS and several other publications.

Sujata previously wrote the Mosaic story, ‘Porklife: Building a better pig’.

Twitter: @sujatagupta

What is your feature about?

It’s both a story about a new way of treating drug addicts and a profile of a doctor/entrepreneur who has been spearheading this new approach to treatment. Traditionally addicts have been given a weaker or different formulation of their drug of choice and funneled into various rehab programs. Such treatments are, by design, a compromise.

Now, new drugs, or rather new formulations of existing drugs, could change all that. These drugs, which induce no high and eliminate cravings, work by blocking the receptors in the brain that bind to mind-altering substances. In other words, a heroin user on such a drug, known fittingly as a blocker, could shoot up and feel absolutely nothing. If blockers work as intended, they could ultimately lead to true recovery.

What did you learn that you didn’t expect?

My plan was to find a way to write about addiction to benzodiazepines – or anti-anxiety medications such as Xanax and Valium – and how hard it is to come off the drugs. Pretty quickly, George O’Neil, the doctor I profile in this story, threatened to hijack the piece. While O’Neil has come up with a novel treatment for benzodiazepine addicts, his ambition has always been to cure addiction, full stop.

While visiting O’Neil in Perth, Australia, I happened to mention that Peter Shumlin, the governor in my home state of Vermont, has made it his top priority to address the state’s addiction crisis. Given O’Neil’s tenacity, I wasn’t surprised when he contacted Shumlin to see if he would try out his treatment for heroin addicts. What did surprise me was that state officials here overlooked O’Neil’s healthy dose of exclamation points – I was cc’d on the email – and are now pushing ahead with a tentative trial. Failure to get approval from the US Food and Drug Administration could ultimately scuttle the project, but for now O’Neil’s dream is sitting, quite literally, in my backyard.

Read Sujata’s feature on Mosaic, publishing 17 March 2015. 

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B_F5erdUoAAoM2v1The Mosaic podcast launched last week. But what else is out there? Here are some of the podcasts we listen to that inspired us to create our own.

This American Life

This American Life tells the stories of the ordinary and extraordinary people, mostly (as the name suggests) in the USA, though occasionally beyond its shores. Presented by Ira Glass, the show’s variety, honesty and flawless production puts it at the top of many a podcast-lovers’ favourites.

Serial

A spin-off of This American Life, Sarah Koenig’s investigation into the murder of Hae Min Lee in 1999 and the subsequent conviction of Adnan Syed engrossed listeners around the world. The twists and turns in each episode following Koenig’s investigation gripped listeners, but also prompted major consideration of the ethics of a public crime investigation. Widely praised and discussed online, don’t go searching too deeply if you want to avoid spoilers!

Radiolab

An excellent podcast about science featuring some standout sound editing. The show uses incredible soundscapes as an aid to explain complex ideas (an excellent example is the description of the translation of mRNA to proteins in Episode 1 of Series 13) and a unique ‘call-and-response’ style for its interviews, intermingling sections of recorded interview with the presenters' live dialogue.

Invisibilia

Exploring “the invisible forces that control human behavior”, Invisibilia is a show about real-life stories that usually have links to science. Presenter Lulu Miller is a former producer of Radiolab and co-host Alix Spiegel was one of the founding producers of This American Life.

Welcome to Night Vale

My new favourite podcast and unusual in that it’s fiction presented in a non-fiction format. Taking the form of a biweekly “local radio show” from a dystopian desert town “somewhere in Southwestern United States”, it features ridiculous reports of Night Vale’s goings-on. Cecil Baldwin’s gorgeously stilted vocals and the unnerving music and sound effects create an immersive experience of oppression by the ‘World Government’ and their "vague but menacing" agencies.

The Moth

The Moth is a New York-based not-for-profit group dedicated to the great tradition of storytelling in its simplest and most refined form. This weekly hour-long podcast showcases the best stories told at their live events, juxtaposing hilarious anecdotes, heart-breaking tales of normal life and the accounts of heroic individuals.

The Guardian Long Read

Audiobooks of the pick of The Guardian’s regular longform articles. Professionally read and produced, these are a great way to digest in-depth journalism on the go.

Other recommendations:

99% Invisible
American Cinematographer Podcasts
Crossing Continents (BBC Radio 4)
Freakonomics Radio
In Our Time With Melvyn Bragg (BBC Radio 4)
Outlook (BBC World Service)
Startup

Calum Wiggins

What do you like listening to? And how does the Mosaic podcast compare? Let us know in the comments.

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huffCharlotte Huff, a Texas-based journalist and recovering newspaper staffer, has written about medicine for two decades. As a political science major and Fulbright journalism scholar, she gravitates toward stories that intertwine science, money and ethics. Her features have appeared in various publications, including American Way, GenomeMedical Economics, Slate and Women’s Health. After many years of living in Fort Worth, she’s dodged a twister and now says y’all, but hasn’t yet purchased a cowboy hat or boots.

Twitter: @Charlotte_Huff

What's your feature about?

The piece grew out of a really intriguing scientific theory, mentioned by a doctor in passing, that many of the malignancies we call ovarian cancer might actually be seeded in the nearby fallopian tubes. I’ve written about cancer for many years, and had never heard about this growing body of research.

For women who carry mutated forms of the BRCA genes the personal stakes couldn’t be higher, as they are encouraged to remove their ovaries as a preventive measure once they’ve finished having children. So this experimental surgery, to remove only the tubes in the short term, might open an alternative path if they refuse the recommended surgery, fearing premature menopause. But they have to make the decision while the underlying science remains uncertain.

What did you learn in the process of reporting and writing it that you didn't expect?

I wasn’t surprised that some doctors are concerned, even alarmed, about offering this experimental surgery to women with BRCA mutations, given that their lifetime ovarian cancer risk can approach 40 per cent. What did impress me were the women I spoke with during the course of the reporting, or listened to as they met with doctors and nurses at Houston’s M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. They’re asking great questions. They’re not in denial about the stakes involved if they keep their ovaries. Their dilemma provides an emblematic case of personal decision-making in the face of daunting choices.

Read Charlotte’s feature in Mosaic, from 10 March 2015. 

 

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Mosaic compelling stories imageTwelve months ago, we made an informed bet. That there was a gap in the media ecosystem. That stimulating longform, explanatory science articles aimed at a non-specialist audience were in short supply, but higher demand. That bet was Mosaic, the Wellcome Trust’s digital publication about the science of life. And looking back now, it paid off.

We thought Mosaic would be popular. But the extent of its success with both readers and critics has surprised us. Mosaic’s own website has had more than 1.5 million views, a figure well in excess of our targets, and we know that our content has attracted more than 8 million readers when republished by other newspapers, magazines and websites. The true readership is likely still higher – the Creative Commons publishing model, which allows third parties to re-use our content freely, means we have data for only a subset of our readership.

Critical praise, too, has been gratifying: our features have appeared among the Best Reads of 2014 for Longreads.com, Longform.org and Digg, and have been promoted by the Financial Times, the New Yorker and Quartz, among others. One feature won a Medical Journalists’ Association Award , our video series Last Chance Saloon won the Outstanding Achievement Award at the Toronto Web Festival, and mosaicscience.com has been shortlisted for Website of the Year at the British Media Awards, where our commissioning editor Mun-Keat Looi has also been nominated for the Rising Star Award. This is a testament to talent and hard work of the Mosaic team. It was new territory for the Wellcome Trust – a journalistic endeavour, in which we had little prior form or reputation. My thanks and congratulations to Giles Newton, Chrissie Giles, Mun-Keat, Peta Bell and the rest of the team.

Just as pleasing as the audience figures is the depth of engagement that Mosaic has received from readers. The average reading time for stories is an impressive 8 minutes, and there has been rich discussion on social media and comment threads elsewhere on the web. Our decision not to have comments on features has, I think, been vindicated: we are starting more fruitful conversations elsewhere.

Besides readers, writers and editors have engaged too. One of the founding principles of Mosaic was that our content shouldn’t just be free to read, it should be free to share and republish too – we wanted to pay great writers properly to cover important stories in depth, and then allow their work to find the broadest possible audience, wherever that audience might be. That is why we decided to publish under the most liberal Creative Commons licence – CC-BY. We had a hunch that other media outlets would be more than happy to take this great material and bring it to new audience, but I must confess that I thought the concept might take months to catch on. It isn’t a publishing model with which the mainstream media is especially familiar.

What was stunning was the way in which other media started taking and re-using our content from day one. BBC Future, the Guardian and CNN took content straight away, swiftly followed by the Independent, New Statesman, Gizmodo, The Atlantic, Pacific Standard and Buzzfeed. Most gratifying of all has been the way outlets we would never have thought of approaching have taken our content to huge audiences – Jezebel, for example, republished Rose George’s menstrual taboo feature, garnering more than 300,000 views on their site. We’ve made other unexpected appearances in Stylist’s popular Emerald Street newsletter, Hacker News and the popular Dutch site Geenstijl. Then there’s the many non-English translations made possible by our model: French, Spanish, Portuguese, Hungarian. CC-BY has allowed us to explore unknown unknowns.

When we launched, we wondered whether writers might be cautious about publishing their work under a CC-BY licence. It is not, after all, what they are used to. But with a very few exceptions, what we and they have found is that the exposure they get for their work through CC-BY is extremely valuable. We pay writers the market rate that they deserve for creating outstanding work, and CC-BY allows it then to reach the widest possible audience. About 60 writers have now contributed to Mosaic, and almost all of them have embraced the concept. I think the writing community appreciates an outlet that at once recognises that good journalism has a significant cost and a value, and that this can be married with seeking maximum free distribution.

The CC-BY republishing model has become central to Mosaic’s identity. It’s a model that we’ve pioneered and one I’d like to see other non-profit organisations try for themselves, particularly outside the science sphere. We’ve proved that the model works for good content. I hope that others will see its value.

But it’s the stories that I am most proud of. As a reader, I was gripped by Virginia Hughes take on girls who seem not to age, fascinated by Emily Anthes’ account of eating insects (and pleasantly surprised when one day it suddenly popped up in my copy of the Guardian as their three-page Long Read), and moved by Patrick Strudwick’s account of those living with HIV today. That story deservedly won a Medical Journalists’ Association Award recently and what delighted me most was the category it won in: Science Explained. That’s really what Mosaic is all about, what it set out to do.

When I joined the Wellcome Trust as Head of Communications, Mosaic was just a PowerPoint slide at interview, an idea of something that a charitable foundation might do. It’s wonderful to see that idea now reaching close to 10 million people.

What will Year Two bring? The quality bar can always be raised, so we hope to publish even better stories that you’re used to seeing on Mosaic each week. I see us building further on the success of the CC-BY syndication model and exploring co-commissions with some of those new partners. And we’re already branching out into some new avenues – such as an excellent podcast of audio narrations, which we’re launching this week. The focus will not be on expanding volume, but expanding reach. We’ve proved the Mosaic model works. Now we want to show how far it can go.

Mark Henderson is Head of Communications at the Wellcome Trust and Mosaic’s Editorial Director.

Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 09.34.14We spoke to two of the people who took part in the shoot for the Mosaic piece on sex and disability, Suz and Steve, to find out why they got involved, what the day was like and what they hope their participation will achieve. Read more on how we commissioned the photographs.

Suz

Why did you decide to take part in the shoot?

I was forwarded a link by a friend, explaining the concept of the article and asking if I would be interested in taking part. After discussing it with my family, I decided that I would. I had never done anything like this before and felt it would be a good experience.

I thought that the concept of the shoot was an interesting one and a way to show able-bodied people that disability should not and does not affect a person’s sexuality. Maarten and Sophie, the photographers, talked through their ideas but made it perfectly clear that if there was anything I didn’t feel comfortable doing then I didn’t have to.

Why did you choose to pose without your prosthetic?

We were asked to stand, sit or lay in certain positions but encouraged to move about and pose in ways that we felt were appropriate and comfortable. I choose to pose without my prosthetic because I felt the purpose of the shoot was based around the sensual aspect of sexuality and disability. In my private life I would not wear my prosthetic at those times, so I felt it could give a false, harsher image of what was trying to be portrayed.

What do you think is the biggest misconception non-disabled people have about disabled people and sex?

I think one of the biggest misconceptions about disabled people is that we are unable to think for ourselves. People avoid eye contact and talking to you, preferring to talk to the person with you – especially if you are in a wheelchair. We are able to think for ourselves and make decisions. We have the same needs and desires as everyone else, we may just need to be a bit more creative at times to achieve them.

How do you think people will respond to the shoot?

I hope that people will respond positively to the article, although I am sure that some people will find the images uncomfortable. It is only recently that disabilities have become more acceptable and not something to be ashamed of or hidden from view.

I think that people are starting to tire of the ‘perfect’ models we have had drummed in to us for the last few decades. We are becoming more used to plus-size models now, although I feel we are some way off from seeing disabled models become widely accepted. Public opinion and tastes can take quite a while to catch up with reality.

Steve

Why did you decide to take part in the shoot?

I first heard about the shoot through an amputee forum on the internet. Maarten [the photographer] had asked the group admin to allow him to post an ad asking for amputees to be photographed for an upcoming article on sex and sexuality and the disabled.

It is fair to say that any such requests are instantly rejected by many amputees, as they assume they come from a ‘devotee’, which is the name given to a person that has a fetish for amputees.

It was the comments to the post that first drew my attention. Having read all the info posted I asked Maarten to supply me with more details, which he did, and asked if I would be happy to take part. After thinking it over, I thought ‘Why not?’ There were two main reasons. First, it was a new experience for me, never having done a photoshoot before. Second, sex and disability is a subject that is rarely addressed. Many seem to think that if you’re disabled in any way that you don’t have sex nor any interest or desire for sex. So if it helps people to realise that they are wrong on that, it has to be a good thing. The shoot itself was great fun, and I really enjoyed it.

What do you think is the biggest misconception non-disabled people have about disabled people and sex?

Hopefully those reading the article and looking at the pictures will realise that sex is a part of all our lives and whatever the disability you have, it does play a part.

Why don’t we see more disabled models in the mass media? 

We are slowly beginning to see disabled models and actors in mainstream events but nowhere near enough yet. Hopefully with articles like this confronting issues head on, things will improve and more opportunities will open up for the disabled. I for one would jump at the chance to do it again.

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When I approached the photographers Sofie Middernacht and Maarten Alexander about the shoot for our sex, lives and disability article, I wanted the subject to be universal. I wanted it to be about our bodies.

We decided to create a series of ‘still life’, close-up photographs of the body. The photographs would be intimate and involve partial nudity because the piece is as much about sex as it is about breaking any preconceptions about disability. We also wanted the shoot to have something of a fashion and art feel – this may seem odd to say when you are dealing with undressed bodies, but you might be surprised at how much nudity appears in fashion magazines!

We wanted real people, with real bodies, for the shoot, so we found participants through social media and online message boards. Showing your body off to thousands or even millions of people is not something that most of us do every day, so we needed people who were comfortable with the idea of posing without much clothing on. Of course, we made this clear from the start. On the day the models wore underwear and we checked regularly to make sure that they were comfortable with what was happening. The shoot was very much a collaboration between the subjects and the photographers.

There were a few reasons why we decided to exclude the models’ faces. The first was because we are dealing with nudity and sex but didn’t want the images to be seen as pornographic. We felt that focusing on the shapes the bodies made, rather than people’s faces, was a more sensitive way to approach the subject.

The second reason was security. We wanted the shoot to be a safe environment that protected those involved from potentially being identified by ‘devotees’ (read more on this in this related post and in the main story).

The last reason came from Wellcome Collection’s current exhibition, The Institute of Sexology, which inspired our photographers. They did as many sexologists of the past did – photographing or filming their subjects in a way that preserved the subjects’ anonymity.

You can find out why the two amputees who took part in the shoot posed without their prosthetics here.

Sex and disability was a difficult subject to illustrate, and there are many different ways we could have taken the shoot (see, for instance, this NSFW approach by Olivier Fermariello. But for me, it came down to two things that unite us all: showing our bodies and what we do with them.

Peta Bell
Art Director, Mosaic

 

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Apple_Podcast_logoNot everyone likes to read. Some people prefer to listen. The spoken word has long been a popular medium, and audiobooks and podcasts have gone through something of a resurgence in popularity over the last few years, not least after the success of Serial.

This week, as Mosaic celebrates its 1 year anniversary, we’re delighted to enter the fore with our new podcast of audio narrations and audio documentaries.

Subscribe on iTunes or RSS.

Each week we’ll add a new Mosaic story: either one of our text features professionally read by a narrator, or an audio documentary. We’re uploading three for launch this week:

  • ‘Voices in the dark’ – our audio documentary exploring the world of voice hearing and audio hallucinations.
  • ‘The man with the golden blood’ – Mosaic’s most popular story comes to audiobook form with this reading of Penny Bailey’s tale of rare, and very rare, blood.
  • ‘In other words: inside the lives and minds of real-time translators’ – BBC Radio 4’s Geoff Watts reads his Mosaic story looking at the unique brains of the world’s interpreters.

You can also find all our audiobooks and docs on Soundcloud.

This is a new venture for us, so we’d love your feedback on what you liked or how we can improve. Leave us a review on iTunes, tweet us @mosaicscience or email mosaic@wellcome.ac.uk

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KQKatharine Quarmby is a contributing editor at Newsweek Europe. She has worked as a journalist for the BBC, including stints as Newsnight’s science and politics producer, and at The Economist, as well as contributing to other papers. She has written two non-fiction (print) books, the first of which, Scapegoat: why we are failing disabled people (Portobello Press, 2011), investigated disability hate crime and won the AMIA Media award, and No Place to Call Home: Inside The Real Lives of Gypsies and Travellers, shortlisted for the Bread and Roses Award. She also writes non-fiction and short fiction e-books and silly books for children.

Twitter: @KatharineQ 

Website: katharinequarmby.wordpress.com

What is your feature about? 

My feature is about sexuality and disability. Usually features about this topic tend to focus on interviews with scientists and disabled men, and most are also heterosexual. I hope that this one is different – there are academics and scientists in the piece, but many are disabled people, and many are women. Not everyone is heterosexual this time around either…

What did you learn that you didn’t expect?

I actually learned a lot, even during investigating this topic for the article pitch. I learned that disabled and older people with age-related impairments have lots to tell younger and non-disabled people about sexuality, if there was an appetite to listen. The whole Hollywood view of sex, that sex only happens between two completely perfect and beautiful people (and who gets to define that anyhow?) as one interviewee put it, is so damaging to all of us. I’m so glad I got to do this project.

Read Katharine's feature on Mosaic from 3 March 2015.

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Jessica Wapner

Jessica Wapner is a freelance writer equally fascinated by what’s under the microscope as by the people behind it. She writes often about the intersection of health, disease and social justice.

Her articles have been published in Scientific American, Slate, Aeon, TheAtlantic.com, AARP, New York, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere. Her first book, The Philadelphia Chromosome: A genetic mystery, a lethal cancer, and the improbable invention of a lifesaving treatment, was published in 2013.

Jessica earned her degree in biology after studying mockingbird song for four years, and later served as editor for professional medical journals before turning to writing. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her family.

Twitter: @jessicawapner

What is your feature about? 

This article is many stories in one: how the foreskin came to be seen as a body part that American men are better off without; the challenges we face in interpreting medical evidence; the presence of bias in evidence-based decision-making; and the surprising extent of the controversy surrounding routine infant male circumcision. This story is also about the future of the foreskin, both in the US and in 14 African countries, where a massive voluntary circumcision campaign is underway for HIV prevention.

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

So many things. I was not expecting friends and family to be so interested in the history of circumcision and how it became part of routine medical care in the US. Many dinner conversations were taken over by the topic over the past few months. Before starting research for this story, I had no idea that the US took such a different approach to routine medical circumcision than most other Western countries, and I didn’t know that so many people vehemently oppose the practice. And I was very moved by the dedication and warmth in the people I met in Tanzania and Zimbabwe. The constraints of some very difficult circumstances cannot extinguish the irrepressible wish to improve health and life overall.

Read Jessica’s feature in Mosaic, publishing 24 February 2015.

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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.

Patrick's Mosaic story 'One virus, four lives: the reality of being HIV positive' won the Science Explained category at the 2015 Medical Journalists' Association Winter Awards.

Twitter: @PatrickStrud 

What is your feature about?

Hepatitis C is at a crucial crossroads in its history – we now have new, miraculous cures, but this isn’t enough. So the feature explores the methods doctors are using to try and find the infected, as well as examining how and whether we’re ever going to be able to pay for the new treatments.

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

I had no idea how awful a disease hepatitis C is. I also had no idea how many people are infected with the virus, how badly they suffer, how dreadful the old treatments are and how revolutionary the new ones.

Read Patrick’s feature on Mosaic, from 17 February 2015.

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imgresWe're thrilled to announce that Patrick Strudwick has won an award from the Medical Journalists' Association for his Mosaic feature 'One virus, four lives: the reality of being HIV positive'.

Patrick, who won the Science Explained category in the 2015 MJA Winter Awards, dedicated the award to Ian Gurnhill, who died several weeks after Patrick interviewed him for the story.

Congratulations also to Catherine de Lange, whose Mosaic feature 'Brazil's billion-dollar gym experiment' was shortlisted for the Best profile of a health of medical figure category at the MJAs.

These recognitions add to a number of successes Mosaic has enjoyed in its first year. Our stories have been republished in a variety of places, and articles have been translated into French, Hungarian, Portuguese, Spanish and Turkish.

In 2014, ‘Arrested Development’ and ‘DIY Diagnosis’ were listed among the best reads of 2014 by critics at Longreads, Longform and Digg.