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Memorable Stories of 2008

A host of meaningful stories from's first full year on the Web.
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It was about the third or fourth time I heard the compliment that I noticed the barb. "I was on your Web site this morning and was I surprised. The stories were really good. I mean that — really good."

In the proud afterglow that accompanies new parenthood, I only heard the last part at first. Ahhh, "really good." Ain't that sweet? But after a few iterations, the surprise part gained attention. People were surprised that our stories were good —suggesting they expected them to be not good. Which isn't necessarily the same as bad, but in line with a technical description sometimes used by journalists of my ilk, "kinda sucky."

The compliment came back to me as I surveyed hundreds of original stories that appeared in this first full year of in order to find a handful to spotlight as "editor's picks" for 2008. I was struck by how good most of them were. Not awesome, but fundamentally sound and usually providing, or re-interpreting, information that wasn't being traded in the marketplace of ideas.

What follows isn't a Top 10 list or a compilation of the year's best. It's a collection of meaningful articles that survived the year with their relevance intact or even enhanced. The list skews a little toward the front end of 2008, in part because there's a unique joy in discovering old friends and in part because we'd like some more bang from the bucks we spent when fewer uniques were clicking on us.

There are 10 entries, though, which suggests I must love some of my children more than others. Still, the kids left out in the cold are still a special bunch, whether it be the opus of work Matt Palmquist created in the Today in Mice blog, John Perlin's expert's eye view of solar power, Rob Kuznia's nuanced look at what might be termed "solar health," or Sameer Pandya's sociological examination of cinematic darkness. No rational ruffians, tipples and tokes or sensible sanitation.

Nonetheless, I'm proud to present, in no order of precedence, a collection of feature stories that I promise are not sucky:

Enticing Health Insurers to Pay for Prevention
The American health care system suffers a litany of well-known flaws: high medical costs, rising numbers of uninsured and a greater percentage of sick citizens than in many industrialized countries. As the nascent Obama administration figures out how to tackle this amid a catastrophic financial crisis, our Ryan Blitstein last winter offered a small idea that could pay significant benefits. Read the story


Software Helps Insurers Profit from Denials
David Rosenfeld's exhaustive examinations of disenfranchisement are probably his defining moments with so far, but this piece, his first for us, remains a hidden gem that just about everyone in America is blissfully unaware: Health insurers are increasingly devising more sophisticated means of denying services either upfront or sniffing out money they believe to have mistakenly doled out. Read the story


How Climate Change Will Affect What We Wear
Thanks to a nudge from Drudge, this article remains our most-viewed piece ever. And maybe it's the heat, or at least the humidity, but this look at bamboo underwear and carbon-neutral laundering is one of the few pieces where our starched-collar earnestness relaxed for a moment. (And kudos on author Starshine Roshell's new book, Keep Your Skirt On.) Read the story


From Petri Dish to Gas Pump
We love our alternative energy around here, even if hard-eyed analysis of American energy usage shows that puts us in a very select minority. Two ideas that are unlikely to be the be-all and end-all of alternatives still caught our eye this past year, pond scum and wood waste. Read the story


An Honest Look at Social Security
These three articles by staffer Tom Jacobs were our attempt to Make a Statement. Anticipating — incorrectly, as it turned out — that Social Security was going to be a major issue in the 2008 presidential election, we presented three articles that laid out the reality of the U.S. system — in peril but not in crisis — and some cant-free suggestions for averting disaster. Read the series


Is the House of Representatives Too Small?
Here's a surefire method for ensuring unpopularity — call for more politicians. But Lee Drutman found that something is indeed lacking in D.C. — full representation. The U.S. House of Representatives has been at 435 members since 1911, when the country was a third of its current population. Research suggests that districts may now be getting too big for adequate representation. Read the story


There's No Such Thing as the Women's Vote ...
If there really are such creatures as Soccer Moms, Hockey Moms, Wal-Mart Moms or Security Moms, they may be elbow-deep in politics at the school-board level, but they have rarely been responsible for choosing our president. That's what our Emily Badger determined after surveying academics and journalists across the nation before November's vote. (May I recommend Amy Ramos' "Glass Starting Gate: Voters Will Elect Them, But Women Still Have to Run" for those interested in women as candidates. Read the story


America's Mental Health (Care) Is Getting Worse
America does a lousy job of taking care of its mentally ill, whether due to malign neglect or benign incompetence. These four stories, and an anticipating string of follow-ups, examine the mess the U.S. has created and the models that may take us to a better place. Read the series


Project Keeps Sky Watchers in Eternal Dark
While most of the solutions Miller-McCune is looking for are right here on Earth, some are bigger than the planet itself. These two stories look at men with their heads in the clouds and their hearts in the heavens. Read the story


Total Recall ... Or At Least the Gist
If we ignore our blog item on baseball prognostication, which always seemed to top our most viewed list, this piece by Tom Jacobs has proven our hardiest story of all time. If we could just remember why. ... Read the story


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