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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.

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Peter AldousPeter Aldhous got his break in journalism in 1989 as a reporter for Nature in London, fresh from a PhD in animal behaviour at the University of Nottingham. Later he worked as European correspondent for Science, as news editor for New Scientist and chief news & features editor with Nature, before moving to California in 2005 to become New Scientist’s San Francisco bureau chief. In February 2015, after a spell working freelance, he joined the new science desk at BuzzFeed News.

Peter also teaches investigative and policy reporting in the Science Communication Program at the University of California, Santa Cruz, data visualization in the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, and leads training workshops for kdmc Berkeley.

Twitter: @paldhous

What is your feature about?

It’s a plea to consider animal minds on their own terms, rather than through humanity’s distorting lens. We all find it easy to project our own thoughts and feelings onto our pets and our closest living relatives, while struggling to do the same with creatures that seem more “alien”. Yet even the experts find it hard to design experiments that pose fair cognitive tests for animals that inhabit sensory worlds far removed from our own, and which interact with their environment in very different ways. These ideas have been bouncing around my head for a quarter-century or so, but it took a New York Times Op-Ed headlined “Dogs Are People, Too” to prompt me to challenge this anthropocentrism. I hope to convince you that “People Are Animals, Too” is a much better mantra, if we want to understand the diversity of animal minds, and with it our own place in the living world.

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

Some of my sources proved refreshingly frank about the double-standards that can colour the way in which experimental findings about animal cognition are written up. If a chimpanzee passes a test, it’s often assumed that the mental processes involved are similar to our own. But similar results for “lower” animals tend to be couched in explanations involving simple associative learning, rather than an acceptance that they understood the problem they were solving. Watch out for the story of “pig 3” – arguably an unsung “Einstein among swine” – and one scientist’s misgivings about the way which his team described her performance.

Read Peter’s feature in Mosaic, publishing 10 February 2015.

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Our monthly round-up of stories that have got the Mosaic team thinking. This month’s selection is loosely based around the theme of ‘happy’.

How to become Batman (podcast) (Invisibilia)

A relatively new science podcast from NPR, this has a good pedigree thanks to a team with experience on This American Life and Radiolab. This episode, recently rebroadcast on This American Life, has a great story on a fascinating subject: can blind people actually see? And is it our expectations that limit what people can do? We loved the Batman references.

My lovely wife in the psych ward (Pacific Standard)

The story of a marriage that happens to include multiple episodes of psychosis. Full of hope, there's optimism in this piece, but introspection and doubt too. This story begs the question: where does love fit in stories of (mental) ill-health?

Soar: The quadriplegic who reached for the sky (video)

An uplifting short about an Australian man with quadriplegia called Dave Jacka. We really hope they make a longer film about his kayak trip.

E-cigarettes: is vaping any safer than old-fashioned smoke? (The Guardian)

A lively and entertaining look at the controversy and confusion over e-cigarettes from the reliable Will Storr.

Bombshell Scientology Film Revealed: Alex Gibney on Cruise, Travolta and 'the Prison of Belief (The Hollywood Reporter)

A long profile piece on the documentary maker famous for, among other things, his inside look at the Lance Armstrong scandal, and his latest film about Scientology. It's about someone at the top of their game who gets to make great things.

What do we need to know? (video) (Aeon)

A two-minute animation about knowledge, cut from a lecture at the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA). The last line really resonated with us: “kindness is an absolute”.

A choose-your-own adventure on Twitter

Finally, a bit of pure, innovative fun. Start here.

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

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Linda GeddesLinda Geddes is a Bristol-based freelance journalist writing about biology, medicine and technology. Born in Cambridge, she graduated from Liverpool University with a first-class degree in Cell Biology. She spent nine years as an editor and reporter for New Scientist magazine, and has received numerous awards for her journalism, including winning the Association of British Science Writers’ awards for Best Investigative Journalism, and being shortlisted for the Paul Foot Award.  Her book, Bumpology: The Myth-Busting Pregnancy Book for Curious Parents-to-be was published in 2013.

www.lindageddes.com

Twitter: @lindageddes

What is your feature about?

Lots of parents worry that they're not doing enough to stimulate their child. This feature explores whether parenting is something that should be taught, or whether what comes naturally is good enough. It also looks at why there's such an achievement gap between children from rich and poor households by the time they start school, and what steps might be taken to close the gap. 

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

It made me think about the values I'd like to instil in my children and how best to achieve this. As a result I have started trying to praise my children for everyday good behaviour, such as playing nicely together, or helping to tidy toys away. I'm also encouraging and supporting them to try and solve problems for themselves.  

Read Linda’s feature in Mosaic, publishing 3 February 2015.

31 Comments

Alice BellAlice Bell is a London-based freelance writer focusing on the politics of science and technology. She has degrees in the history of science and sociology of education, as well as a PhD in science communication.

She was previously Lecturer in Science Communication at Imperial College where she also set up an interdisciplinary course on climate change. She’s also worked as a bookseller, as Head of Public Engagement at the University of Sussex’s Science Policy Research Unit, and setting fire to bubbles in the children’s galleries at the Science Museum.

Twitter: @alicebell

What is your feature about?

I looked at the Radical Science Movement. Active in the 1970s, they asked questions about the role scientists played in war, pollution and inequality, as well as how science itself might be reformed to be less sexist, for example, or better at communicating with the public.

The UK end of this centred around a group called called the British Society for Social Responsibility in Science. It all sounds quite establishment — and, indeed, the inaugural meeting was held at the Royal Society, with all sorts of the great and the good present — but this were a bit of a front group for something much more radically left wing. As one of their members told me, they were the scientific wing of the revolution. They wanted to change the world, and felt we needed to change science as part of that. They loved science, but didn’t like how scientific energies were being applied, and wanted to change that. 

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

I guess it was discovering they existed in the first place. I’ve worked in the politics of science since I was a teenager but hadn’t heard of them until a couple of years ago. We were clearing out an old library at the University of Sussex and a colleague turned up at my office with a load of slightly faded magazines called Science for People and manifestos for this thing called the British Society for Social Responsibility in Science. “You might be interested in this” he said, muttered something about how the Americans had a slightly different approach from the Brits, and wondered off.

Honestly, I cringed, expecting it to be some stuffy attempt to explain science to the uneducated masses. I’ve seen a lot of publications like that, they’re well meaning, but usually pretty crass. I was wrong. The magazines were honestly trying to open up debate on science. It was also openly political, which I’m not used to seeing in scientific debate. And they were funny! The pages were full of jokes and cartoons, poking fun at the scientific establishment.

Intrigued, I started to dig around and find out more about who these people were, and where they went. The best bit was talking to people who’d been involved, hearing the life stories, ideas and arguments behind what had ended up printed in the magazines, and how diverse they were. I soon realised that, although the organisation had largely dissipated, they had quietly had quite a bit of impact, and several of their fights are still relevant today. Whether you're relieved or disappointed that the revolution they called for never happened, we can learn a lot from tracing their story.  

Read Alice’s feature in Mosaic, publishing 27 January 2015.

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Mike IvesMike Ives is a journalist based in Hanoi, Vietnam, and a regular contributor to The Economist, The New York Times and other publications. He has reported on business, politics, science, art, food, health, travel, architecture, real estate and the environment.

Twitter: @mikeives

What is your feature about?

My Mosaic story explores the health and policy implications of peat fires in Indonesia – and the clouds of noxious smoke haze that they generate. There was a flurry of haze-related political activity in 2014 in both Indonesia and Singapore, the wealthy city-state where the smoke haze often ends up. But many haze-watchers doubt that the activity will eliminate the problem. And scientists are still struggling to understand exactly how smoke from peat fires affects human health.  

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

Three big things. First, in Indonesia, it can be extremely difficult – and often impossible – to pin down exactly who is responsible for causing a given peat fire. Second, there is far less scientific data available on the health effects of peat smoke relative to more conventional emissions, such as factory smokestacks or automobile tailpipes. And third, although atmospheric scientists can study smoke haze with sophisticated equipment and modeling technologies, they still have trouble predicting when a peat fire will start, how much smoke it will generate and where that smoke may travel.  

Read Mike’s feature in Mosaic, publishing 20 January 2015.