Twenty-First Century Science Writers

I was very flattered to find myself on someone’s list of Top Ten 21st Century Science Non-Fiction Writers. (Unless they meant my evil twin. Grrr.)

However, as flattered as I am — and as much as I want to celebrate rather than stomp on someone’s enthusiasm for reading about science — the list is on the wrong track. One way of seeing this is that there are no women on the list at all. That would be one thing if it were a list of Top Ten 19th Century Physicists or something — back in the day, the barriers of sexism were (even) higher than they are now, and women were systematically excluded from endeavors such as science with a ruthless efficiency. And such barriers are still around. But in science writing, here in the 21st century, the ladies are totally taking over, and creating an all-dudes list of this form is pretty blatantly wrong.

I would love to propose a counter-list, but there’s something inherently subjective and unsatisfying about ranking people. So instead, I hereby offer this:

List of Ten or More Twenty-First Century Science Communicators of Various Forms Who Are Really Good, All of Whom Happen to be Women, Pulled Randomly From My Twitter Feed and Presented in No Particular Order.

I’m sure it wouldn’t take someone else very long to come up with a list of female science communicators that was equally long and equally distinguished. Heck, I’m sure I could if I put a bit of thought into it. Heartfelt apologies for the many great people I left out.

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42 Responses to Twenty-First Century Science Writers

  1. Awkward self-promotion time! Despite having my name frequently misread as Mike, I’m very definitely a female scientist (physics/geophysics), scifi science consultant, educator, and journalist. While I’ve been writing about geoscience for years on GeoMika and occasionally cover how physics is used in the entertainment industry for Physics Today, my current big project is taking on a new Space subsite for io9, a very wide beat covering planetary science, terrestrial disasters, astronomy, and even space in pop culture.

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  2. Sean Carroll says:

    Self-promotion is completely encouraged, and in no sense awkward. (Honestly I made no attempt to be systematic or include everyone, even among people I know.)

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  3. David Dobbs says:

    Fantastic list.

    Sean, I know you’ll do a facepalm when you see this, as I know you know her work, but I would hasten to add to this fine list one Virginia Hughes, who is a top writer on neuroscience, genetics, and behavior. Smart, brave, adaptive, elegant work.

    She is at
    http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/blog/only-human/
    and
    http://www.virginiahughes.com.

    Also Maria Konnikova, superb too on neuroscience and psychology, and newly a contributing writer at NewYorker.com. She’s at http://www.mariakonnikova.com

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  4. Sean Carroll says:

    Facepalm! Adding both of them right away, maybe nobody will notice.

    This is why I should never make lists of human beings.

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  5. Joan Hendricks says:

    Just so you know, some of us have read twice as many of your books as those of your “evil Twin”, Sean B. Carroll. Two of yours and one of his!

    Thanks for your support of women in science.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  6. Daniel Shawen says:

    I would like to nominate Evalyn Gates, for “Einstein’s Telescope”. It’s a really nice read to learn about the use of interferometry in astronomy to detect gravitational lensing.

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  7. Alan Chodos says:

    How about:

    –Dava Sobel, for “Longitude” and other books;

    –Rebecca Goldstein, although she writes more about math and philosophy; and

    –alpinekat, for the Large Hadron Rap (www.youtube.com/watch?v=j50ZssEojtM)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  8. Jenn says:

    I’d add Jessica Snyder Sachs. http://www.jessicasachs.com Good Germs Bad Germs is one of my favorite books.

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  9. Greg Lyzenga says:

    I would definitely suggest Emily Lakdawalla, whose excellent writing and blogging for the Planetary Society on planetary science are first rate.

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  10. Mark Adler says:

    Absolutely second Emily Lakdawalla! I don’t know how she would not be near the top of such a list, as well as near the top of the integrated list.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  11. David Palmer says:

    And Vi Hart of course.

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  12. Thiago Leitão says:

    Just of the top of my head you seem to have forgotten two great science writing girls: Janet Browne (two volume biography on Darwin, read it faster and liked it better than most novels I’ve tried) and Sarah Blaffer Hrdy (only person I’ve read other than E.O.Wilson who makes evolutionary psychology sound reasonable rather than made up). Not a reflection of my degree either (Physicist working in IT infrastructure since I left grad school), they’re really amazing.

    By the way let me name a couple of great Brazilian women science writers: Mayana Zatz (biology/genetics) and Maria Cristina Abdalla (physics/hep). Don’t think their popular science books are available in any language other than Portuguese but I’m pretty sure some academic stuff can be found in english!

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  13. Barbara says:

    Thank you for this!!! We are all culturally brainwashed even today about women being “less than.” Acts like this and many more like them are essential if we are ever to be free to consider people on their merits.

    Did you know that women did not crack theakor symphony orchestras until blind auditions were introduced? Did you know that today, women earn less for the same work, women’s professions are lower paid and women entrepreneurs have less success getting loans and other financial backing?

    Hard to believe its the 21st century. And the same goes for people of color that because of that face significant headwinds in this world we live in.

    Barbara Ashley Phillips

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  14. Lila Guterman says:

    Nice list! And in the realm of shameless self-promotion, I’d like to note that more than half of our reporters and all but one of the editors at Science News are women. It makes me a little sad not to see anyone from our magazine on your list!

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  15. Navneeth says:

    Many plus-ones for Emily Lakhdawala and the multi-talented Vi Hart. I would also like to suggest Erica Klarreich, also of Quanta, who writes on mathematics for the lay reader, a far tougher job than writing about other sciences.

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  16. I think all the best popular mathematics articles that I’ve read recently have been written by women. As well as Erica Klarreich’s many great pieces, there was The Paradox of the Proof by Caroline Chen. I like Evelyn Lamb’s writing, too.

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  17. Ricki Lewis says:

    Yay! Another list I didn’t make. But congrats everyone who did.

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  18. Having seen your post on the subject of my list, I must say that I am thrilled that you liked my list, and am glad that you appreciated having a position on said list. But I also agree with you on the fact that female science writers deserve more attention, and I must agree with you on your list of women science writers; those that I know have written truly excellent works, and deserve places on my list as much as the men do, for instance, Mary Roach, Lisa Randall, and several others. As an entheusiast for physics myself, I will be sure to look into the works of many of these writers in the future. And I’m going to take this opportunity to say that I like your books, your articles, etc. a lot; they really are inspiring to me. And I will be sure to make more online lists on the subject of science, hopefully to promote it as well as I can.
    PositronWildhawk

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  19. Bee says:

    Thanks, very flattered :)

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  20. CJSF says:

    I ♥ Rebecca Skloot!
    and Emily Lakdawalla.

    CJSF

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  21. James says:

    Psst! You misspelled Dr. Stemwedel’s name!

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  22. Thanks Sean for compiling this great list of writers. Lists like this can never be complete, but I’d like to add some other excellent science writers who I follow on Twitter, with a slight bias towards astronomy writers:

    Amina Khan: https://twitter.com/aminawrite
    Rebecca Rosen: https://twitter.com/beccarosen
    Amy Shira Teitel: https://twitter.com/astVintageSpace
    Nadia Drake: https://twitter.com/slugnads
    Alicia Chang: https://twitter.com/SciWriAlicia
    Sheril Kirshenbaum: https://twitter.com/Sheril_
    Kelly Oakes: https://twitter.com/kahoakes
    Maggie Fox: https://twitter.com/maggiemfox
    Eric Check Hayden: https://twitter.com/Erika_Check
    Christine Russell: https://twitter.com/russellcris
    Carolyn Johnson: https://twitter.com/Carolynyjohnson
    Bethany Brookshire (Sci Curious): https://twitter.com/scicurious
    Sharon Begley: https://twitter.com/sxbegle
    Clara Moskowitz: https://twitter.com/ClaraMoskowitz
    Eryn Brown: https://twitter.com/LATerynbrown
    Kathleen Raven: https://twitter.com/sci2mrow
    Michelle Nijhuis: https://twitter.com/nijhuism
    Christie Aschwanden: https://twitter.com/cragcrest
    Nancy Atkinson: https://twitter.com/Nancy_A

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  23. Ben Lillie says:

    A few who haven’t been mentioned yet:

    -Brooke Borel, who is writing a hell of a (gross) book on bedbugs.
    -Meehan Crist, writer in residence in the Columbia Biology Department.
    -Leslie Jamison, not a science writer by trade, but just made a hell of splash in medical writing with “The Empathy Exams.”
    -Amy Shira Teitel, who writes about space history.
    -Nadia Drake, newest addition to Phenomena, writing on space.
    -Elizabeth Preston, Editor of MUSE, a wonderful science magazine for kids.

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  24. Sean Carroll says:

    James, thanks for catching that.

    Much appreciation to everyone who has suggested more names. Note again that this is not a list of “top” anything — just some good writers I happen to be following on Twitter, is all. The point is not to pick out the best, it’s to demonstrate how many great people there are.

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  25. AV Flox says:

    It’s not just my permanent case of impostor syndrome speaking when I say I am overwhelmed to be part of a list that includes so many brilliant science communicators. These women have changed my life — they remind me what journalism looks like and what conversational and accessible writing look like, they remind me to be fearless and also to have fun. I owe them much — and I am humbled to find myself beside them.

    I’ll admit, when I slam my head against the wall and want to give up on the internet, I do ask myself, what would Deborah Blum and Jennifer Ouellette do?

    (PS: My attorney wants me to add that I am aware that poison and LSD are not usually appropriate paths to career advancement.)

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  26. Rob says:

    This is wonderful!

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  27. Pingback: Science communicators (who happen to be women) on Twitter, per Sean Carroll – Lucretius, ver. 21c

  28. Bob Ladendorf says:

    The list of science writers who are women is impressive. I would like to add M.G. Lord to the mix for her book on JPL – “Astro Turf: The Private Life of Rocket Science” – and many articles on science, including a cover story in “Discover” magazine on the dangers of radiation for space travelers.

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  29. James Gallagher says:

    Louisa Gilder deserves a mention , author of The Age of Entanglement and other great reads

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  30. Michael says:

    How about Andrea Kuszewski @andreakuszewski ? She’s an awesome neuroscientist.
    Also Jordan Gaines @GainesOnBrains

    Also seconding Amy Shira Teitel @astVintageSpace

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  31. Asnant says:

    Dear Professor,

    This is off topic but can you tell me if this person has really solved the information paradox?

    http://msutoday.msu.edu/news/2014/plugging-the-hole-in-hawkings-black-hole-theory-1/

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  32. Pingback: I’ve Got Your Missing Links Right Here (19 April 2014) – Phenomena

  33. Ray Gedaly says:

    I still remember Emily Lakdawalla’s great commentaries on SNL in the late-1970s. Oh wait, not the same person … “Nevermind!”.

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  34. David Stewart says:

    Found among my shelves, Lisa Randall’s “Warped Passages” I’d been reading 7 years ago. (Date all my books). Good time to re-read/finish. I’ll parallel that with Veltman’s “Facts & Mysteries in Elementary Particle Physics,” another I had not finished–same year, 2007. If I can just figure out why 2007–and now 2014 for the dots connecting. Good list. I’ll look into more of them.

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  35. Pingback: I’ve Got Your Missing Links Right Here (19 April 2014) | Gaia Gazette

  36. rocken1844 says:

    speaking of 19th century – some women would not accept being shut out of professional science – Lydia Ernestine Becker founded and edited the “Women’s Suffrage Journal” also corresponded with Charles Darwin and sent him plant samples and she published a book “Botany for Novices”

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  37. Great work!

    It can obviously depend on one’s definition of science so, out of personal interest, I’ll add a couple of bioanth (lato sensu) bloggers (some haven’t posted for some time but I live in hope). My apologies to those I forgot.

    Holly Dunsworth http://ecodevoevo.blogspot.ca/p/about-our-contributors.html
    Anne Buchanan http://ecodevoevo.blogspot.ca/p/about-our-contributors.html
    Katie Hinde http://mammalssuck.blogspot.ca/
    Caitlin S. https://paleophile.wordpress.com/
    Hayley Forsyth https://osteoarch.wordpress.com/
    Katy Meyers http://bonesdontlie.com/
    Kate Clancy http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/context-and-variation/
    Rosemary Joyce http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/what-makes-us-human
    Danielle N. Lee http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/urban-scientist/
    Julienne Rutherford http://aapabandit.blogspot.ca/
    Fiona Jordan https://evolutionaryanthropology.wordpress.com/
    Alondra Nelson https://alondranelson.wordpress.com/
    Elizabeth Quinn http://biomarkersandmilk.blogspot.ca/
    Michelle A. Rodrigues http://spidermonkeytales.blogspot.ca/
    Dienekes Pontikos http://dienekes.blogspot.ca/

    And of course all the members of the great TrowelBlazers: Victoria Herridge, Suzanne Pilaar-Birch, Rebecca Wragg-Sykes, Brenna Hassett http://www.trowelblazers.com/

    Many women anthros are on Twitter as well, here mixed with other colleagues:

    https://twitter.com/cynocephale/bioanth-inclusive/members
    and
    https://twitter.com/cynocephale/anthropology-lato-sensu/members

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  38. Pingback: Blogging : it’s (also) a girl thing ! | Artefacts numériques

  39. No doubt I missed many but how could I forget Barbara J. King ? http://www.npr.org/blogs/13.7/2010/05/21/127029133/about-13-7-cosmos-and-culture

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  41. Ahhhhh. says:

    Go Jennifer!

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  42. Jay Alan Babcock says:

    Laurie Garrett (“The Coming Plague”)

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