Photograph by Bill Ingalls, NASA
Photograph by Bill Ingalls, NASA

An Elegy for 'Not Exactly Rocket Science'

After 10 years, the blog is shutting down.

Everything ends, so let’s start there. Effective immediately, I’m closing down this blog.

I’m not going anywhere, though; since 2015, I’ve been working at The Atlantic as their first staff science writer, and will now be focusing fully on my writing there.

Having ended, let’s return to the start. I started this blog—Not Exactly Rocket Science—in August 2006, on little more than a whim. It was my first proper foray into science writing. I told my friends that I wanted to get regular practice, and to build up a portfolio of work that I could then show editors. But mainly: I really wanted to write. I had an urge to explain, to describe, to tell stories—an itch that my day job at a cancer charity wasn’t scratching.

I’ve since written more than 1,800 pieces under its banner. At first, I wrote for free, to an audience that numbered in the low dozens. Then, I moved to a succession of paying communities: the ScienceBlogs network (then run by the now-defunct SEED magazine), the Discover blogs network, and finally National Geographic’s Phenomena.

This is where I honed my skills through nigh-daily practice, built my reputation, and taught myself how to do journalism. I started collecting links to the pieces I had read during the week. I won awards, including the National Academies Keck Award for Science Communication in 2010. Editors did contact me to do freelance work for them after reading my posts, conference organizers asked me to speak to their delegates, and social scientists wrote papers about the blog. Not Exactly Rocket Science has been the centrepiece of my career.

But everything ends.

Over time, as I wrote for more publications, and as I began to self-identify as a journalist rather than a science communicator, my approach to blogging also changed. More and more of the posts were fully reported, and the writing style skewed closer and closer to what I’d write in paying publications. And yet, for the longest time, Not Exactly Rocket Science remained the one place where I had control over which stories I should cover, and over how I should cover them. Blogging was freedom.

But The Atlantic, whose online writers have long fused the freewheeling ethos of blogging with the traditional rigours of journalism, now offers a similar freedom, combined with all the benefits of editorial support. Consequently, it’s where I’ve decided to devote all of my energy. It’s where Not Exactly Rocket Science will live on, in spirit if not in name.

This blog changed my life. It gave me a career. It cemented my desire to write. It connected me with communities that opened my eyes to the art of journalism and the realities of social justice. It led to friendship and love.

It’s ending now, but not really dying. It just became something else, right under my nose. (The same has been said for blogging in general in countless hot takes.)

In this final post, I’d like to sincerely thank: National Geographic for hosting Not Exactly Rocket Science since 2012; Virginia Hughes, Amos Zeeberg, and Jamie Shreeve for recruiting me into their various networks; to Carl Zimmer for being a constant source of encouragement since the very earliest days; and to everyone who has read my work over the last decade.

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