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

What is your feature about?

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

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

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

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

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

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

Twitter: @pennysarchet

What is your feature about?

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

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

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

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

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

Twitter: @mocost

What is your feature about?

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

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

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

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

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

The many poses of Marcel Marceau (the Paris Review)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The chameleon (The New Yorker)

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

Connecting prisons with nature (Aeon film)

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

Cathedrals (Aeon film)

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

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

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

Twitter: @edyong209

What is your feature about?

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

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter: @harpistkat

What is your feature about?

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

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mo Costandi

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

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

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

The Community Channel can be found on:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter: @barryjamesgibb

What’s the film about?

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

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

What did you learn that you didn’t expect?

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

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

Watch Until on Mosaic, from 5 August 2014.

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

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

The Drug Revolution that No One Can Stop (Matter)

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

Life, After (New York Magazine)

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

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

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

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

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mkohn2013BMarek Kohn writes about the implications of scientific thinking for ideas about human nature and society. His books include A Reason for Everything: Natural Selection and the English Imagination, Trust: Self-Interest and the Common Good, As We Know It: Coming to Terms with an Evolved Mind, The Race Gallery: The Return of Racial Science, and also Dope Girls: The Birth of the British Drug Underground. His most recent book, Turned Out Nice, explores how a changing climate could reshape national identities and relationships across the British Isles and Europe as a whole.

Twitter: @marekkohn

What is your feature about?

Are 'smart' drugs really smart, and what are the prospects for smarter ones? Rather than assuming that 'smart' drugs really do enhance cognition, and heading off into a discussion of whether their use is 'cheating' or not, I wanted to find out more about the science, and what cognition actually is.

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

That we have been in the Amphetamine Age of cognitive enhancement since the 1930s, when the effects of amphetamines on mental performance were first observed, and we look like we'll be remaining in it for the foreseeable future!

I also found my storyline taking an unexpected turn: I ended up writing about fairness after all, but posing a very different question to the usual one about whether students should be allowed to use drugs as aids to study.

Experiments by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir show how worrying about money degrades cognitive test scores, severely. Drugs that enhanced concentration or attention might counter those effects, helping enable poor people to lift themselves out of poverty. In the future, ethical questions about 'smart' drug use might shift from those about elite performance to those about equality and social justice.

Read Marek's feature on Mosaic from 29 July 2014

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Alok Jha.  Passport photo. Photo: Linda NylindAlok Jha is the science correspondent for ITV News. Before that, he did the same job at the Guardian for 11 years and has also presented science programmes for BBC TV and radio. He is the author of two books: How to Live Forever and 34 Other Really Interesting Uses for Science and The Doomsday Handbook: 50 Ways to the End of the World (both published by Quercus in 2013). He is working on a third about the cultural and scientific history of water (to be published by Headline in 2015).

Twitter: @alokjha

What makes Harold Varmus an interesting subject for you?

Varmus has done so much in his working life – winning a Nobel, writing books, arguing for science in Congress and widely on the national stage – and he is still going strong. An hour in his company can't help but make you more informed about the world and more fascinated by the puzzles of human biology at the molecular level.

What struck you most from the interview?

How specifically detailed Varmus' knowledge of the cutting edge of cancer research is. Someone who has contributed as much as he has to science could be forgiven for taking a step back, but Varmus seems to like keeping his hands dirty with strategies, ideas, possible experiments and trials to beat cancer. He seems to have several different full-time jobs, yet still manages to find the time to indulge his deep interest in cycling and playing sports more than many of us with just one job do.

Read Alok's feature on Mosaic from 22 July 2014.

 

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Carl_Zimmer_S8I0005Carl 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 is your feature about?

It’s about blood types, and why we have them.

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

I got interested in writing this feature simply to find out why we have blood types. Since scientists have known of their existence for over a century, I was sure that by now their purpose had been discovered. After all, blood types matter a lot to our health – insofar as a mismatched blood type can make a transfusion fatal. I was surprised to learn that, while there are some intriguing clues, no one can say for sure why we have blood types.

Read Carl's feature on Mosaic from 15 July 2014.

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Online discussions are now a staple of any digital publication. ‘Below the line’ comments, Twitter, Facebook, Reddit – there are any number of places readers go to voice their thoughts and opinions.

We wrote in our Content Strategy that Mosaic would “aim to open up the storytelling process and involve our audience”. Rather than a purely publish/broadcast relationship, our thinking was to try to involve our audience more, both in generating ideas for future stories and in further discussions of the issues raised by current stories. And over the first few months of Mosaic’s life, we’ve done a few experiments.

Comments

One of the earliest decisions we faced was whether to have comments under our stories or not.

There are many pros and cons, but the main ones were obvious. On the one hand, it’s nice to have an obvious place directly underneath an article where readers can write what they think and discuss the topic there and then. On the other hand, online comments are notoriously either empty fields of tumbleweed or full of trolls and flame wars, requiring major resource to moderate.

Having looked at many other publisher and website models, we decided against comments, for 2 main reasons:

1) Aesthetically, the page is cleaner, friendlier and shorter (bearing in mind our articles are already quite long) without multiple comments underneath.

2) Our aim is to “share our content as freely and widely as possible” and reach new audiences wherever they may be, in the places they already go (rather than force them to visit our site necessarily), it seems churlish to force them to come to our site for their discussions (an environment that may be unfamiliar and uncomfortable sharing on). Far better that those discussions take place where they already feel comfortable talking, be it another website, community, or their own social media.

Four months in, I personally think this has been justified. Some of the richest discussions around our articles have taken place not on our platforms, but in places that already have a large and engaged audience, often around on a particular subjects. Jezebel’s republish of Rose George’s Blood Speaks has so far garnered 655 comments and a rich discussion of menstruation and taboo. We also saw similar on Australian site Mamamia. Similarly, Gizmodo – one of the major publishers to have taken up our Creative Commons republish license enthusiastically – has seen wide ranging discussions over subjects like the next-generation female condom. And in terms of reaching other, new audiences, Hacker News readers seem to like our stories, prompting discussions of everything from ageing to electric brain stimulation and Brazilian gyms.

We also publish all our stories in a collection on Medium, which allows readers to annotate any part of the story with a note, something several readers have taken advantage of (this one on our Mind Readers story for instance, shares a relevant link to further the discussion).

Reddit

We wanted to be more pro-active with discussions and debates around our stories and the issues they raise. So we made a conscious effort to think where else, besides comments, people might be interested in talking.

Reddit is one of the biggest communities on the Internet and famous for its AMA (Ask Me Anything) Q&As with just about anyone who wants to do one, be it a Hollywood celebrity or a local nurse. Reddit also has an audience with a strong interest in science, with their Science subreddit one of the most popular on the site.

Working with their moderators, we’ve thus far featured in 3 Reddit AMAs related to our stories, putting the scientists and authors directly involved in the story in contact with the Reddit readers. We’ve been pleasantly surprised with how much the Reddit readers and the scientists themselves have taken to the experience.

Social media

Of course, readers don’t need comments or a discussion page to voice their opinions.

Many of Team Mosaic, as well as our writers, are avid tweeters, and the nature of the quick messaging service make it perfect for discussions and Q&As. We’ve done a number of them so far, ranging from Q&As with the authors – this one with Rose George on her experience reporting in Bangladesh and Nepal for instance – to wider crowd-sourced information about the dangers of cycling in your city and tips from runners for marathons. We also partnered with non-profit #MHchat to host a moving and enlightening debate on the nature of mental health and stigma during Mental Health Awareness Week, based around our Last Chance Saloon series. It helps when authors like Rose and Hayley Birch are familiar and comfortable with the quickfire nature of Twitter. And the #MHchat experience showed us how candid and open people are willing to be when the barrier to entering the discussion is low but the quality of debate is high.

We’ve had mixed success with Facebook. On the one hand, discussion around the meaning of ‘normal’ (linked to our film AbNormal) garnered a number of comments, but not as wide a discussion as we’d hoped (perhaps the question was too abstract?). On the other hand, Facebook was a crucial part of our #BigQuestions launch campaign, with a photo album of images forming the voting mechanism for the campaign. This garnered some very rich discussion under each one, 200,000+ views  and over 1000 votes through likes, shares and comments. Facebook definitely has the largest number of users of any of the social networks we use and we’ll be thinking carefully about how to best deploy discussions on here in future.

Google Hangout on Air

One of Google+’s most useful features is the ‘Hangout’ – essentially a group video chat, which you can also choose to broadcast publicly via YouTube. We’ve seen some excellent uses of this in recent years and have been keen to see if we could use these ourselves.

Our first experiment took place back in April. The culmination of our #BigQuestions launch campaign, we organised a panel discussion on the most popular question – Is sexuality genetic? – between a group of biologists, psychiatrists, campaigners and journalists, connecting from around the country. Mosaic readers were also invited to pose questions directly via a chat panel on the Google+ event page itself. 

The whole thing was broadcast live on our Google+ page and YouTube channel, with the video automatically uploaded to our YouTube channel for posterity. We learned a lot from the experience – not least the level of planning and resources needed for a larger-scale broadcast – and hope to do more of these, probably on a smaller-scale, involving our writers and their subjects.

The Future

What else might we do? We had ideas of trying out Branch for one. We’d also like to follow in the footsteps of our friends at MATTER, who have in the past crowdsourced ideas for new stories based on what an editorial board drawn from their audience voted for. Whether this is something our readers would want to take part in, we’d like to find out.

So watch this space. And as ever, if you have any feedback or ideas, we’d love to hear them. mosaic@wellcome.ac.uk, tweet us @mosaicscience or comment - this blog does have them.

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Srinath PerurSrinath Perur finished his doctoral work in computer science and, for a change, began a column that answered children’s questions on science. He found himself doing more research than ever to fend off queries about why dogs chase cars and whether there is such a thing as a consequence-free post-meal headstand. He now writes on a variety of subjects, often related to travel and science.

He is the author of If It’s Monday It Must Be Madurai, a book about travelling with groups. He lives in Bangalore.

Twitter: @sperur

What is your feature about?

It's about Stephen Sumner, who's been cycling around Cambodia teaching fellow amputees how to use mirrors to relieve their phantom limb pain. It's also about looking at the not-quite-settled science in mirror therapy against the backdrop of a place where it could be particularly useful -- Cambodia has an unusually high number of amputees in the aftermath of prolonged conflict. 

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

I wasn't expecting to return from reporting a neuroscience story with a deeper sense of the pointlessness of war. Also, to my mortification, I learnt that a one-legged cyclist is easily able to outpace me. 

Read Srinath’s feature on Mosaic, publishing 8 July 2014.

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Overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff on the Internet? Often find yourself with 10+ tabs open on your browser? These days many of us have too much to read, which is a challenge for those who like to read long-form content (and those who publish it too).

Thankfully, there is a solution: read later services.

The idea is simple: at the click of a button you can save the whole text (and often the pictures too) from a webpage to read at another time at your leisure. These services sync with apps on your smartphone or tablet, or even your Kindle or other e-reader, so you always have something you want to read at your fingertips - perfect for those idle moments waiting in a queue or riding the bus or train. Even subway reading is possible, since the apps keep the latest articles on your device for offline use. Best of all: most of these services are free.

When I first discovered these a few years ago, they literally changed my life. I always have my phone on me, so I always have something interesting that I want to read with me at all times. The number of articles I was able to consume – particularly long-form – went up substantially (though you could argue that I’ve swapped multiple open tabs for lots of saved articles I may never read….). I also like the clean, ad-free reading experience these services offer – a change from the busy clutter of many webpages.

Here follows a quick guide to the services available (Disclaimer: Mosaic does not endorse any product or service. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.) 

Instapaper

The first read later service I used and one of the most established. Originally created by Marco Arment, one of the founders of Tumblr, Instapaper does what it says on the tin: “Save anything, read anywhere” with a simple and clean interface and design.

You can choose to read either through scrolling or swipe-pagination, what font and what size it displays in, and even whether you read with a black or white background (black being better for device batteries). There’s even a ‘night version’ mode that will adjust the brightness at sunset to go easy on your eyes.

Elsewhere, you can archive items you’ve read (searchable), ‘favourite’ articles, and also link that to your social media services to tweet or Facebook your friends and followers. It offers send-to-Kindle integration and has a new ‘highlights’ feature, allowing you to save quotes and other bits from articles. There’s also a feature that will surface feature articles from your saves, as well integrating with friends who also use Instapaper so you can see what they’re reading too. Particularly nice is the Twitter integration – you can save an article right from the Twitter app to Instapaper and it will also have that person’s tweet in the save (useful if you forget why you saved it in the first place!).

For a fee you can also upgrade to a ‘Pro’ version with a full-text search function for your archive and no ads among other things.

Pocket

Originally grown out of a simple browser extension (literally called ‘Read it later’), this is possibly the leader in read later services at the moment and my current favourite.

Much like Instapaper, with all the same functions but in some ways slicker. In its web and app versions it looks much more colourful and magazine-like than Instapaper’s simple black-and-white design. In my experience, I’ve also found it better at saving the images alongside articles too.

Usage-wise, it’s a joy, with a great search function right out of the box. Pocket has the same ‘features’ highlighting function as Instapaper, but puts that at the top of the app, sorted into automatically tagged categories like ‘Long Reads’, ‘Quick reads’ and ‘Best of’ – useful for surfacing items that you’d saved a while ago but never got around to reading. You can also create your own tags. Like Instapaper, it recognises video and image-led articles and tags them in an easy-to-find separate category. Like Instapaper, should you choose to hook up your Pocket account to your friends’ you can see what people have chosen to share to you, as well as what they’re reading. And you can send articles directly from the Twitter app too.

A pro version is available, which gives you a more powerful search function (search by topics or author for instance) as well as a permanent library – it’ll keep the full save of your archive so you can access anytime, even if that article later gets deleted from the web (most services lose that when you archive it from your list).

Readability

A service started with the aim of cleaning up the web-reading experience, read later seems to have developed as a bonus benefit. As such, it grew largely out of its browser extension for Firefox – click the button and it’ll display the text of your webpage without the ad and side-box junk and a more readable font.

You don’t need to install an app to use it, since the Readability website is fully mobile-responsive. But app-wise the standard apps for Apple and Android devices are available, just like Instapaper and Pocket and with much the same functionality. You can send articles to your Readability account via email and there’s integration with popular browsing app Flipboard if that’s your thing. It also has a partnership to highlight the best long-reads from the curators of Longform.org as well as a nice ‘Top Reads’ newspaper-like section that highlights the most popular articles people are saving at the time.

Evernote

Considered more as a note-taking/self-organisation tool, if you think of Evernote as a pinboard/scrapbook for ideas and thoughts, it makes sense that one of its major features is the ability to ‘clip’ articles from around the web. This saves the text of the article to your Evernote account, which you can synch to read offline. Not as flash or as optimised for reading as the other services, it still works well and is very useful if you also want to tag and save articles for project research purposes.

Others

Thanks to the free Kindle apps for smartphones and tablets, anyone with a smartphone or tablet can take advantage of Amazon’s ‘Send to Kindle’ service, not just Kindle owners. It’s pretty straightforward – you can install an extension to your browser to automatically send any article (or indeed document) straight to your Kindle account (which if you have it set up, will automatically synch with your Kindle). Not so good for video or image heavy pages of course.

Apple devices also all come with ‘Reading list’ built into the Safari browser. This takes advantage of Apples iCloud service to store your articles in the web. It does sync with your devices, but obviously is only of use if you have an iPhone or iPad.

For more on these services, Mashable has a nice guide to Read-it-later apps.

What’s your experience with read later services? Do let us know in the comments.

Disclaimer: Mosaic does not endorse any product or service. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own. 

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Jo MarchantJo Marchant is a science journalist with a PhD in genetics. She has worked as an editor at New Scientist and at Nature and has written on topics from the future of genetic engineering to underwater archaeology.

Jo is the author of Decoding the Heavens: Solving the mystery of the world’s first computer (2009) and The Shadow King: The bizarre afterlife of King Tut’s mummy (2013), which was described by Literary Review as "a thrilling account [that] shows our human failings, most notably greed and pride". Her third book, Heal Thyself: The science of thinking yourself better, will be published by Canongate in 2015.

Twitter: @jomarchant

What is your feature about?

It is about how a Nobel-prize winning biochemist came to discover that the Eastern spiritual practice of meditation might slow cellular aging and lengthen life.

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

I didn't expect how beautifully a state of mind (perceived stress) would correlate with the molecular state of our cells. I was intrigued to hear that Nobel laureate Elizabeth Blackburn has been inducted as a "medicine Buddha" by the Dalai Lama. And as a mother, I was surprised to hear how the effects of stress during pregnancy are passed onto the next generation. The idea that my thoughts and feelings might physically alter the DNA of my unborn child - that blew my mind.

Read Jo’s feature on Mosaic, publishing 1 July 2014.

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Our regular round-up of stories and films that have stood out for us in some way. This month, we were particularly thinking about interviews and how to represent interviewees in features.

Buzzfeed’s Jonah Peretti Goes Long (Matter)

Medium, the platform on which this Q&A with the founder of Buzzfeed is published, says it takes 91 minutes to read. It’s a bit of an insider’s piece – interviewer and interviewee are well known to each other and there is a lot of assumed knowledge about Peretti and his ventures – but it certainly made us think about how we read online. We all found that we skipped or skimmed through some sections: does that mean it could have been shorter? Or just that we were given the chance to pick and choose what we were most interested in?

‘So that represented my own little rebellion’ (Harvard Gazette)

Another Q&A, much shorter and more focused on giving a sense of the character of the interviewee, Stephen Greenblatt, a Harvard academic. It shows how a conversational approach can let the subject reveal personal insights about their motivations and inspirations.

The Defeated (Granta, £)

A compelling story of racial tension in South Africa. What makes this piece stand out is that the writer was thorough not only in his original reporting of a murder 15 years ago, but also, looking back, in his description of his reporting process at the time. He has stayed in touch with the people involved and gives the reader a sense of changing perspectives in the affected communities over that time.

Letters From an Arsonist (Washington City Paper)

A detailed account of the life and fires of a pyromaniac. Arsonist Thomas Sweatt is serving two life sentences plus 136 years for his crimes, which meant this article had to be based on a year or more of regular written correspondence between him and the reporter. Including excerpts from Sweatt’s letters puts his voice in the piece in a relatively unmediated way. The prolonged focus on the arsonist contrasts with the experience of the victims’ relatives whom we meet at the end of the piece.

Roger Graef’s Manifesto (Sheffield Doc/Fest)

Roger Graef has 50 years’ experience of making documentaries, so we take his advice seriously. This ‘manifesto’, written to mark his lifetime achievement award at this year’s Sheffield Doc/Fest, reminds us to think hard about what we create and why. Most of what he says is as relative to written features as it is to films.

The Perfect Stride (New Yorker)

There are quite a few runners in our team, so this feature about Alberto Salazar – long-distance runner and trainer – appealed to them in particular. A relatively simple structure reveals Salazar’s backstory in the context of another runner he is now training. The story called for a fair amount of scientific information about biomechanics, which we thought was incorporated smoothly and effectively.

(If you’re looking for more running stories, try ours)

My Travels with the Curse of Maracanã (New York Times)

This interactive animation / comic strip is about an infamous defeat that still looms over Brazilian football 64 years later. Not particularly in-depth, perhaps, but it merits spending some time on it. It’s all wrapped up in a narrative about going to Brazil looking for the soul of soccer, which is certainly topical but seemed a little bit forced. However, the style of the images (especially with the sound on!) more than made up for it.

How mistakes can save lives (New Statesman)

A really impressive piece of writing that follows the quest of an airline pilot to bring lessons from aviation safety to medical practices. His mission is motivated by a tragic personal story which unfolds as we discover that mistakes are common to all careers, but attitudes and responses to them can be very different. A great example of a story that follows a central character while making a much broader point about life.

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

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

Twitter: @barryjamesgibb

What is your film about?

The germ of the film originated in something that’s always fascinated me –when you walk into a pharmacy, it’s brimming with an incomprehensible variety of drugs. We all intuitively know that these pills originate somewhere within ‘the pharmaceutical industry’ - but this film attempts to explore precisely what that means. Who are the people working to create new medicines and how exactly do they go about the seemingly abstract task of ‘finding a treatment for lower back pain’ or ‘neuropathic foot pain’?

Rather than take a didactic, narrated approach to the film, I decided to invite a person with no former scientific training to be our eyes and ears; the wonderful Colin Froy, a retired policeman. His genuine curiosity and sense of discovery throughout the film lends it a wonderful freshness and authenticity as he peeks behind the pharmaceutical curtain, meeting and interviewing the scientists responsible for trying to eradicate his, and others, pain.

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

The cost of creating any new medicine is astronomical. Big pharma can be a bit of an easy target – it’s easy to imagine this cut throat, cloak and dagger world of greed and competition in which members of society become nothing more than profit-generating end users. However, in The Pain Detective, we discover a highly collaborative research community, strongly motivated by the desire to help improve health and diminish suffering.

Their need for cash is the result of this being a business in which the process of thinking up, designing and modeling a new candidate drug, followed by the testing and clinical trials required costs around one billion dollars. Imagine that the next time you’re in a pharmacy.

Watch The Pain Detective on Mosaic, premiering 24 June 2014.

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Our Editorial Advisory Group helps us find and develop stories. They act as a sounding board for story ideas we've got, suggest ideas themselves, people who might have stories to tell or who might be good to write stories on particular topics, and advise on different angles to stories.

The Group includes people from the Wellcome Trust and from other organisations, with a variety of backgrounds, professions and expertise in science, medicine, history, culture, arts, broadcasting and new and old media.

  • Antonia Senior, journalist and writer
  • Claudia Hammond, broadcaster, writer and psychology lecturer
  • Dan O’Connor, Head of Medical Humanities, Wellcome Trust
  • Helen McShane, Professor of Vaccinology, University of Oxford
  • Jeff Barrett, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute
  • Joanna Geary, Head of News Partnerships, Twitter UK
  • John Williams, Head of Clinical Activities/Neuroscience & Mental Health, Wellcome Trust
  • Kay Davies, Dr Lee's Professor of Anatomy at Oxford University and Deputy Chair of the Wellcome Trust.
  • Lisa Jamieson, Head of Engaging Science, Wellcome Trust
  • Nancy Lee, Senior Policy Advisor, Wellcome Trust
  • Richard Barnett, writer, historian of medical science
  • Roger Highfield, Director of External Affairs, Science Museum Group
  • Shamita Sharmacharja, Curator, Wellcome Collection
  • Ted Bianco, Director of Innovations, Wellcome Trust