Longreads Greatest Of 2017: Science, Technology, And Business Writing

We asked authors and editors to opt for some of their favorite stories of the year in a variety of categories. Here’s the best in science, tech, and business writing.

Deborah Blum
Manager of the Knight Science Journalism program at MIT and author of The Poisoner’s Handbook

(David Dobbs, Pacific Standard)

A beautifully rendered exploration of the slow, relentless creep of schizophrenia to the life span of a brilliant graduate student, her slow understanding of the fact, along with the failure of her academic community to comprehend that the issue or to support her. Dobb’s bit functions both as an inquiry to our faltering comprehension of mental illness and our ethnic failure to respond to this with integrity. It is the type of compassionate and morally-centered journalism we should all expect to.


Elmo Maintain
Australian author and journalist living in Mexico, runner-up to the 2017 Bragg Prize for Science Writing

(Lucas Reilly, Mental Floss)

Anyone willing to write about syzygy in the shadow of Annie Dillard’s classic 1982 article “” has balls for kilometers. Reilly’s choice to concentrate on the logistics faced by miniature towns preparing to become inundated by thousands of eclipse watchers was inspired. It closely conveyed the common enthusiasms that celestial events reestablish in us. Between these two essays, I’m convinced a total eclipse would be a psychic event so overpowering I may not survive it. I’ve got 2037 in Antarctica in my bucket listing — if it is .      


Rose Eveleth
Producer and founder of the Flash Forward podcast

(Emma Maris, Outdoor)

The narrative of the wolf in question, known as OR4, hits on each fascinating, muddy, and difficult part of our interactions with our wild predators. We wish to be close, but not too close. We wish to admire and keep them but only as long as they follow our rules. Maris does an unbelievable job of teasing out how wolves and humans both try to survive while at odds together.

 (Julia Angwin, ProPublica)

Everything in ProPublica’s Is Essential read, in my estimation. They’re doing an unbelievable job establishing the black boxes technology businesses hide behind, showing how they are biased in their very own ways. This particular bit helps us know how Facebook is parsing hate address. Considering Facebook is a potent platform for information and information, it is well worth taking a hard look at who they’re choosing to shield. Follow this up attribute with another wise piece of reporting in which the group at ProPublica bought advertisements


Tim Hwang

Manager of the MIT-Harvard Ethics and Governance of AI Initiativeeditor and editor of the .

(Shan Carter and Michael Nielsen, Distill)

The area of computing has frequently been characterized as a battle between Doug Englebart’s eyesight of machines as an instrument for intelligence enhancement and the entire automation considered by artificial intelligence. Carter and Nielsen create an argument to get a new emerging path: artificial intelligence enhancement (AIA), using AI approaches to help produce new techniques for intelligence enhancement. It is a journey which starts with a very simple demo and accelerates to a fractally intriguing and complex discussion.

Also amazing is Distill itself — a beautiful, richly interactive way of explaining and clarifying the frequently arcane finer points of machine learning. Two great tastes that taste good together.

The Mother of All Swipes (Marie Hicks, Logic Magazine)

Hicks busts up the prevailing folklore that features the roots of computerized relationship to Operation Match — the brainchild of a troika of Harvard undergrads from the 1960s. Running parallel is that the story of Joan Ball, working girl from East London who launched her punch card-driven Eros Friendship Bureau close to a year before the technology emerged in the usa. It is an wonderful lens for thinking about the way the aspirations that cause computational power have been employed as a salve to isolation.


Andrea Valdez
Editor, Wired.com

(Susan J. Fowler, private site)

Ahead Roy Moore and Al Franken, until Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose, earlier #MeToo and Harvey Weinstein and the ever-unfurling list of politicos, media men, and Hollywood elites stood accused of s****l misconduct, there was an essay published in February with an former Uber engineer detailing allegations of s****l harassment she experienced throughout her two years working at the favorite ride-sharing firm. Fowler’s bombshell article set off a response which not only resulted in the eventual downfall of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, but motivated a range of tech businesses to analyze their own workplace civilizations — and sometimes, fire or suspend their own executives. ”

To say one blog article catalyzed a movement is a weighty mantle to put upon anybody’s shoulders, but it is difficult to ignore the influence Fowler’s composition had in sparking the present national dialog about power imbalances, workplace behavior, and s****l misconduct.


Kashmir Hill
Senior reporter on Gizmodo’s Special Projects Desk

(Sapna Maheshwari, The New York Times)

When I think back on the very best stories of a year, I’m usually drawn to those I wish I had written myself. This year it was Sapna Maheshwari’s dive to the disturbing videos served to kids on YouTube. It’s all of the best elements of excellent technology reporting: calculations gone wrong, victims struggling injury, and shocking screenshots. Additionally, it resulted in actions, with YouTube declaring plans to improve its video-reviewing moderation team to over 10,000 individuals, a staggering number that still pales in comparison to the millions of hours of movie uploaded each year.

Something Is Wrong on The Internet (James Bridle, Medium)

I found Maheshwari’s narrative through James Bridle’s meditation on it in his wonderfully titled Moderate essay “One thing is Wrong online.” His meandering, hand-wringing post linked lots of posts on the topic of disturbing videos targeted at kids and captured the stress many people think of an attention-weaponized net being pointed at young, developing minds.


Julia Rosen
Freelance science writer based in Portland, Oregon.

(David Dobbs, Pacific Standard)

This piece weaves one woman’s experience with schizophrenia in the wider history of mental illness, and the growing recognition that its expressions are shaped by civilization. Dobbs’s detailed reporting incorporates masterful descriptions of how schizophrenia affects people’s senses of reality. The girl, Nev Jones, is a professional on the way society’s attitudes regarding mental illness form the experience of those affected by it. Both Jones and Dobbs induce us to imagine our own faith regarding conditions like schizophrenia and what damage they may do.

(Emma Marris, External)

I see this story at a coffee shop, that was a mistake as — as buddies had warned could happen — I found myself crying helplessly in my latte after I finished it. Marris tells the story of OR4, the first wolf to put foot in Oregon in 70 decades, and his run-ins with people, most notably with Russ Morgan, the wildlife biologist that, until recently, served as the state’s wolf coordinator. The two met several times at the years OR4 lived in southern Oregon, where he increased heaps of pups, hunted elk and deer at the rocky Wallowa Mountains, and also necessarily k****d livestock. The connection between Morgan and OR4, in Marris’ elegant telling, is similar to one involving an Old West sheriff and also an infamous outlaw. It is full of stress and mutual respect, and the tragic perception they occupy incompatible worlds which will eventually collide.


Ingrid Burrington and Surya Mattu
Journalism R&D residents at Eyebeam

(Lauren Kirchner, ProPublica)

Kirchner’s investigation indicates that not all of DNA evidence is equivalent, incisively illustrating the challenges of applying forensic technology for both prosecution. It demonstrates how these closed technologies have been leveraged against defendants who have no means to challenge the accusations being created with their DNA. It’s also a amazing example of how journalism can hold police accountable to their applications of technologies that are closed: Kirchner’s reporting resulted in the launch of the source code for   .


Michelle Legro
Aged editor, Longreads

(Helen Rosner, Eater)

Silicon Valley has a tendency to invent items that already exist: , ,. Helen Rosner is sick of it. Not only because of the hubris and waste, although there’s lots of this, but because it illustrates the tech industry’s obsession with the “last hundred feet” It is a failure no matter creativity, however of logistics.

This item, which grew from a , is a searing condemnation of their back end of so many startupsthat can be “poorly constructed and unsustainably scaled” Rosner reminds us exactly what success looks like these firms, and how they use the hollow crown of late-capitalism: “Bodega’s success will not be measured by how well it actually replaces the stores it needs to remove — from how many lifetimes it gets better, how many jobs it creates, how many communities it reinforces, or how many households it serves. Like many startups, its success will depend on if its founders and investors earn money.”


Ethan Chiel
Contributing editor and reality checker, Longreads

(Brian Calvert, High Country News)

Large parts of Calvert’s lushly composed, deeply personal essay thinking through the ecocide might not seem like science writing, and if that bugs you I can only encourage you to continue going. A non-exhaustive list of the subjects covered includes the poet Robinson Jeffers, the worth of natural beauty, Calvert’s family at both the 20th and 17th centuries, a retreat in the Spanish Pyrenees, and photographic artwork documenting the injury climate scientists survive. At the outset it might seem as if Calvert is indicating that the ideal reaction to climate science is a type of quietism, however the way in which he grapples with exactly what we as a species have done to the planet is a lot more complex.

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(Sarah Jeong, ” The Verge)

Among many other things, Sarah Jeong’s profile Judge William H. Alsup ought to be commended for putting to rest the question whether or not Alsup knows how to code in Java (he doesn’t, he just discovered a little during the first Oracle v. Google trial). Having cared for this from the very first few paragraphs, Jeong proceeds to deliver a fascinating and intricate profile of a judge that has and continues to preside over some of the most significant tech-related instances of the present day, including Waymo v. Uber, that is presently around Alsup’s docket. She also weaves in questions and arguments about the way judges, the press, and the public ought to approach cases where matters get technical, without forfeiting any of Alsup’s charm or humanity.

(Casey Johnston, The Outline)

It is satisfying to see good writing regarding hardware, especially when it’s good writing about poor hardware. When our plethora devices function correctly it can be easy to forget they are just one design flaw away from an massive headache. The problem only gets more acute as some hardware producers, especially Apple, try to provide milder computers and close off their merchandise ecosystems, often by building computers or phones for which seemingly little fixes require upkeep that Casey Johnston suitably calls “major surgery.” This may mean going without your smartphone or computer for a while, something that, based on your work or lifestyle, may be costly or perhaps untenable.

Johnston writes about this in the context procedure of trying to fix her MacBook’s spacebar, laid low with an abysmal speck of dust. She not only catches the absurdity and exude frustration of coping with Apple’s eccentric repair supply chain, but also appears to imply that in the event the company doesn’t do better, then maybe its customers should go elsewhere.