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As 2014 rapidly approaches its end we wanted to give a little something to our readers - and what more appropriate than a book? 

We’ve taken 14 of the most popular stories from Mosaic’s first year and compiled them into a single anthology, which – in keeping with our ethos – we’re giving away free to download to your favourite ereader. 

Download .epub
Download .mobi (Kindle)

The books are compatible with a Kindle or any other ereader of choice as well as iBooks and other ebook apps.

There is a table of contents in each book (just click ‘contents’ in your ereader to view), but here is what’s included:

  • Arrested development, by Virginia Hughes
  • Blood speaks, by Rose George
  • Can you supercharge your brain?, by Emma Young
  • DIY diagnosis: how an extreme athlete uncovered her genetic flaw, by Ed Yong
  • How malaria defeats our drugs, by Ed Yong
  • Hungary’s cold war with polio, by Penny Bailey
  • Medicine’s dirty secret, by Bryn Nelson
  • The big sleep, by Frank Swain
  • The future of sex?, by Emily Anthes
  • The man who grew eyes, by Moheb Costandi
  • The man with the golden blood, by Penny Bailey
  • The mind readers, by Roger Highfield
  • The mirror man, by Srinath Perur
  • Why do we have blood types?, by Carl Zimmer

All of these stories and more are of course also available to read on our website: http://mosaic.com/stories

If videos are more your thing, we recommend the boxset of Last Chance Saloon, our 11 episode mini-series following Twink’s musical journey through the brain and mental health. That and more available on our YouTube channel and the Mosaic website.

And if you want more bite-sized reading for your idle holiday moments, check out our #StockingFillerScience advent on Twitter.

We're now finished for the year but will be back on 6 January 2015 when normal service continues with more stories of the science of life every week.

Thanks for reading this year. Happy holidays and a happy new year.

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Scan_11_400x400Rebecca Guenard is a genuine math and science nerd with a PhD in chemistry to prove it. She served a tour in academia before finding fulfillment as a science writer. Now she flits from covering one fascinating chemistry topic to the next. She is currently exploring health and beauty chemistry. She has written for The Chemical Heritage Foundation, Kid’s Discover, and Scientific American.

You can see examples of her mind wanderings at atomic-o-licious.com. Or follower her on Twitter @BGuenard.

What is your feature about?

It is a chronicle of the chemical measures we have taken throughout history to alter our hair colour. Even in our modern world, creating a particular aesthetic surpasses concerns over the ill effects that can come from the routine application of caustic chemicals to the head. But accepting some risk in the pursuit of beauty seems to be a part of human nature.

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

I was surprised by the proximity of the discovery of oxidative permanent hair dyes to the origins of the large-scale manufacture of synthetic organic compounds. Hair dyes were right there at the point in history when chemists realised they could develop and mass produce molecules for a consumer market. I was also struck by the ingrained human desire to manipulate our appearance. I assumed the ubiquity of dyed hair was the result of advertising, but we were colouring our hair long before there was such a thing as a marketing department.

Read Rebecca's feature on Mosaic from 16 December 2014.

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

Particle Fever (Dir: Mark Levinson)

Award-winning film edited by Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now, The English Patient, The Godfather), following 6 scientists through the launch of the Large Hadron collider. Defies people who say you can’t show the process of science because it’s dull and reveals why science, all science, is fundamentally fascinating to those who love it. The trailer perhaps doesn’t do the film justice.

Depression Quest (Zoe Quinn)

A narrative-based, choose your own adventure style game (interactive story?) about living with depression. Surprisingly absorbing, with a well-written narrative, but a difficult experience – there aren’t many glimmers of hope.

Tracking the Lincolnshire Poacher (BBC Radio 4)

A spookily fascinating exploration of the mysterious ‘number station’ radio broadcasts. A perfect topic for audio, the first-person storytelling works well and the bells will haunt our nightmares for weeks to come.

Unfinished London (Jay Foreman)

Funny, engaging short film about the development of London’s transport infrastructure. Feels home-made (in a good way) but very well-edited. Gave us that nice satisfaction of discovering little-known stories behind well-known locations.

Wes Anderson’s Worlds (New York Review of Books blog)

An essay about Wes Anderson’s film-making style, but also Vladimir Nabokov and an artist called Joseph Cornell. It's about one commonality in their approach to making art. Heartening and inspiring.

The story of palm oil (The Guardian)

A whizz-bang multimedia story with audio, video, text, infographics – somehow it all comes together quite nicely. There might not be an overall narrative, but it’s an effective way of approaching such a broad topic.

What it was like having an abortion in 1959 (BuzzFeed)

A grandmother tells a personal story of a 1950s abortion. The story moves back and forth in the narrator’s life – does that enhance the story, or make it too confusing?

Losing Ground (ProPublica)

More multimedia: this time about land loss in Louisiana as a result of climate change.

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

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Chris ChapmanChris’s media career began after gaining a spot of work experience on illustrious daytime game show Supermarket Sweep. He has subsequently worked for several indie production companies, design agency Red Bee Media and the BBC, and has produced educational films for the young people’s charity YouthNet. He now produces films for the Wellcome Trust.

Twitter: @chimpy

Chris has produced and narrated Mosaic’s first audio documentary.

What’s your documentary about?

It’s an audio story about the phenomenon of voice hearing. We all have an inner voice, but for some people they have a much more pronounced experience. Voice hearing is often associated with conditions such as schizophrenia or psychosis. But some voice hearers often don’t share the view that they have a ‘brain disorder’– they believe the voices they hear are rooted in significant and sometimes traumatic events in their lives. By gradually exploring these events they believe they can begin to understand what their voices represent.

The story also covers clinical perspectives and features a new therapeutic technique called ‘avatar therapy’, which is helping voice hearers manage the distress their persistent voices can cause. It involves the creation of a visual representation of their voice using computer software. The voice hearer – with the aid of their therapist – enters into a dialogue with this avatar into order to increase their self-esteem and limit the power of the voice.

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

That most of us will experience voice hearing at some point in our lives. For some, it may only happen once or twice. For others, the experience can become more prolonged, perhaps even problematic.

I was also encouraged to learn that clinical approaches to voice hearing are now listening to the experiences of voice hearers themselves as a way to guide their understanding of symptoms.

I also learnt quickly how to be decisive in the edit suite. I had so much interesting material, it was very difficult to decide what to leave out. In order to keep the story under an hour I had to remove a number of segments, including one about Joan of Arc (who once threw herself from a tower at Château Beaulieu-les-Fontaines, apparently as a result of the voices she heard) and a segment about a 16th century hallucinating monk. One segment featuring Professor Paul Fletcher I did keep as a standalone Extra, as he provided a really interesting perspective on how our brains can in fact be unknowingly deceitful. 

Listen to Chris’s documentary in Mosaic, publishing 9 December 2014. A sneak preview below:

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Carrie ArnoldCarrie Arnold is a freelance science writer covering many aspects of health and the living world. Before that, she worked in the field of public health for many years. She has written for a wide variety of magazines and other publications, including Scientific American, Discover, Slate, Aeon, Nautilus and Women’s Health. Carrie lives in Virginia with her husband and cat.

Twitter: @edbites

What is this feature about?

My story is about the booming opioid epidemic in the country and the one programme that is helping to reduce overdose deaths. Naloxone is a cheap, safe drug that can rapidly reverse the effect of an opioid overdose, but it had only been available in hospitals. Since many overdose victims never make it to the hospital, a scientist in Boston decided to distribute naloxone to drug users and their families to see if it would help decrease the number of people dying.

What did you learn that you didn’t expect?

Just how many people had experienced opioid addiction or overdose. Every time I mentioned this story to people, someone seemed to share a personal story of a friend or family member who had been addicted or overdosed. Many of the people I interviewed had walls filled with photos of individuals who had died from an overdose, many of whom were even younger than me. It’s so common and so stigmatised. It was really heartbreaking at times.

Read Carrie's feature on Mosaic from 30 November 2014.

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UnknownDr Lucy Maddox is a clinical psychologist, lecturer and writer. Lucy works clinically on an NHS psychiatric ward for teenagers at the Maudsley Hospital in South London, and she lectures at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience and the Anna Freud Centre.

Lucy has written for various publications including The Guardian, Science, Prospect, The Psychologist, The Times and The Huffington Post. She was a British Science Association Media Fellow in 2013.

Follow her on Twitter: @lucy_maddox or read her blog Psychology Magpie.

What is your feature about?

My piece is about the impact that hospitals and other healthcare buildings can have on patients, families and staff. This impact is not only emotional, it’s also physical, measured in terms of patient recovery, staff health and family interactions.

The evidence suggests that a well-designed building can speed recovery, whereas a badly designed one might make patients and staff feel sicker. I look at some examples of great healthcare design and also consider what gets in the way of the best design principles being used more widely.

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

I was surprised by how beautiful some of the spaces were that I visited. They really do make you feel better as you walk in. Some of the uses of technology were really ingenious too: I loved seeing the robots in the Norwegian hospital, and the nappy accelerometers in the Dyson neonatal unit in Bath were a great idea.

I was struck by how much evidence there is around healthcare design, and yet how little that evidence is typically drawn upon, for a variety of reasons.

Read Lucy's feature on Mosaic from 25 November 2014.

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Geoff Watts
Image credit: Bowbrick/Flickr

Geoff Watts spent five years in academic biomedical research, realised he’d made a mistake in thinking he’d enjoy lab work, and dropped out with no plans for the future beyond staying in touch with science. Journalism eventually offered the ideal escape route, and he’s since divided his time between writing and radio broadcasting.

He’s presented countless programmes on science and medicine for BBC Radio 3, Radio 4 and the World Service – but has not yet learned to like the sound of his own voice.

What is your feature about?

Being pretty bad at languages myself, I’ve always been intrigued by what still seems to me to be a remarkable skill: simultaneous interpretation. To listen in one language while speaking in another and conveying the same content presents the brain with a demanding and wholly unnatural task. How does it do it? My story looks at the progress being made by neuroscience in its attempt to find out.

What did you learn that you didn’t expect?

That contrary to what I thought must be a total myth, some simultaneous interpreters might (might) be able not just to knit or doodle while they’re interpreting, but even do a crossword.

Read Geoff’s feature in Mosaic, publishing 18 November 2014.

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Andy ExtanceBefore becoming a science writer, Andy Extance worked for six and a half years in early-stage drug discovery research. However, when he had his first feature – on a cause of common heart-related problems in new drug candidates – published in Chemistry World in 2004, the course of his career shifted.

Today Andy’s science writing explores everything related to chemistry, from Earth’s environment to space, from food to fusion, and from solar cells to how we smell.

Twitter: @andyextance

What’s your feature about?

The fragile hope that’s emerging for people with Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) thanks to new treatments addressing the disease’s genetic cause. The disease is caused by a mutation in the X sex chromosome, meaning only boys get it, and it’s really, really horrible. Their muscles progressively degrade. From seeming normal – but maybe a bit clumsy – when they’re very young, boys ‘go over a cliff’ (in the words of one interviewee) around age 7 or 8, losing the ability to walk. In their teens they lose the use of their arms and therefore any independence, and they will typically die sometime from the age of 21 to 30 as the muscles powering their heart and lungs fail.

DMD is quite rare – affecting one in around 2,500 boys born worldwide – which means that it hasn’t been well studied. New treatments are now emerging, thanks to university researchers, small companies, and determined patients and their families. However, the time it’s taking to prove whether they work and are safe is painful for those whose lives depend on them. I was able to speak to families on clinical trials for the new drugs, the companies developing them, researchers, charities and drug regulators about how delays make patients’ desperation worse.

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

How bad the current standard treatments for DMD (steroids) are. They help keep boys’ muscles strong and slow their deterioration, but the families I spoke to absolutely detest them because they have very nasty side-effects. I’ll save the details for the main article, but the point is the comparison between steroids and the drugs in development. Families are allowed to use these drugs even though they have a long list of negative effects and limited benefit. Meanwhile, in general, they’re not allowed to take new drugs that could help a lot more, as researchers and regulators strive to prove they work and are safe. It’s a bizarre, frustrating, difficult situation.

Read Andy’s feature in Mosaic, publishing 11 November 2014.

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

Extra! Extra! … This month’s compendium of interesting stories are all (loosely) based around the idea of story Extras – those interesting titbits that, for whatever reason, didn't make it into the final article/film, or were perhaps produced as standalone elements. We at Mosaic have been producing story Extras – short essays, image galleries and even recipes – that sit alongside our feature stories. We looked at out how other publications display, position and make users aware of similar additional content.

The Fire Lab (The Atlantic)

A fascinating insight into a fire research lab that appears within this feature article. At 9 minutes, the film is perhaps a bit long and distracting to appear at the beginning of a long-form article, but as an accompaniment it's great, featuring stunning images and scientific insight into how fires are studied in a controlled environment.

Ibasyo: a photographer’s response to self-harm in Japan (Aeon Video)
*This film contains images of self-harm

An accompaniment to a photography exhibition and an Aeon article, this short photo film includes a simple interview with the photographer talking about the access he gained, the subjects he encountered and how the experience changed him.

112 Weddings (BBC Storyville)

Not so much an Extra, more of a follow-up. A wedding videographer who attended 112 weddings, returns to interview several couples and find out what has happened to them and their marriages.

My favourite picture of you (Aeon Video)

A moving film on the nature of love and memory. A recorded conversation between an elderly couple who recount their memories, spliced together with photos and home movie footage.

The Reykjavik Confessions (BBC News)

More a spin-off from another production (BBC radio programme Crossing Continents) than an extra, this multimedia longform article uses video and photos to good effect to recount the story of a controversial murder investigation and the nature of memory.

Serial (This American Life)

Another spin-off (from the creators of the hugely successful US radio series This American Life), this serialised audio investigation delves (very deeply) into the case of a young man convicted for the murder of an ex-girlfriend. Each weekly episode reveals more about the complex case and the characters involved. How will it end?

Inconspicuous consumption and I had a stroke at 33 (Buzzfeed)

Finally, nothing to do with Extras, but we enjoyed two longform features recounting powerful stories of personal illness from a first-person perspective.

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

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We’re always looking to improve the Mosaic website to enhance your reading experience. It’s a constant process, in line with our agile way of working, and we’ve just rolled out a new set of features following consultation with our editorial team and readers. Many thanks to all of you who took the time to give us feedback, answer our surveys and take part in our user testing sessions.

This is what’s new:

Search

Search

The biggest change is the introduction of a search function, which can be found in the top toolbar. We’d had this in mind from the start of Mosaic, but were aware that in the early days we had so little content that search was somewhat redundant. Now that we have over 50 pieces of content, it makes much more sense and will hopefully help readers find more of what they’re interested in.

Search results screengrab

Extras

Extra box

Alongside each main story, we also publish shorter Extras – standalone shorter pieces such as interesting tangents that the writer found during their research but that didn’t quite make the main story. Indications were that readers weren’t noticing them and when they did hear about one, they couldn’t find it on the site.

We’ve made extras more prominent on the story pages, with a larger floating ‘Extras box’ alongside relevant parts of the text, as well as opening up the Extras listing box at the bottom of each feature by default (previously they were closed and you had to click to open, which wasn't entirely noticeable). The search function will also hopefully help to surface these Extras to interested parties.

Stories page

Stories page

Two small but significant changes to our Stories archive are that now it shows 12 stories at a time, rather than 9, and that there is now ‘infinite scroll’. Our Stories section was previously shown as pages you had to click through, which became a bit of a pain as our archive grew. Now you can just click on ‘More’ at the bottom and it will load more, as many as you want until all are listed.

Galleries

Gallery

Another small, but significant change: our picture galleries now have arrows on them. We went minimalist in our first iteration, showing just the edge of the previous and next images in the series. But our user research showed that it wasn’t immediately obvious that this was a gallery that you could click through, so we’ve reinstated this traditional form of gallery navigation.

Follow us

Follow us screengrabFinally, we’ve added some recognisable logos to our homepage so it is easier to find our Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram feeds, should you be so inclined.

Most of these changes may seem pretty minor, but it’s the small things that can make the difference between a comfortable reading experience and a cumbersome one. We hope they make things better for you. Let us know your thoughts – or any other bugbears or suggestions for improvements – in the comments, @mosaicscience on Twitter or email mosaic@wellcome.ac.uk

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

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

Bryn previously wrote Medicine's Dirty Secret for Mosaic.

Twitter: @SeattleBryn

What is your feature about?

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

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blood types Mosaic piece in The Independent

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

Polio in Readers Digest

Mosaic Alzheimers Enigma in RageMag

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

Pain Detective on Gizmodo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Emily Anthes

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

Twitter: @EmilyAnthes 

What is your feature about?

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

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

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

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

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

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

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

Sky burial (Oxford American)

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

This old man (New Yorker)

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

China’s island factory (BBC)

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

The Sunni-Shia divide (CFR)

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

Films

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

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

3 Comments

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

Twitter: @barryjamesgibb

What is your film about?

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

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

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

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

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

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

8 Comments

Ben Gilbert

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

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

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

Ben Gilbert
Ben on location in India

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

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

Ben Gilbert

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ben Gilbert

Ben Gilbert is a photographer at the Wellcome Trust.

See Ben’s photos on Mosaic.

Photography: Michael Regnier

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

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

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

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

Twitter: @mpr2020

What is your feature about?

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

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

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

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Patrick Strudwick

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

Twitter: @PatrickStrud 

What is your feature about?

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

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

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

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

12 Comments

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

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

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

It’s been a busy six months.

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

1. CC-BY works

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

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

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

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

2. Death to TL:DR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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