This issue marks a milestone for Science News — the 100th birthday of our magazine.
It’s been an extraordinary century, both for science and for us as a news organization. One of the first big stories we covered was the 1922 discovery that insulin could successfully treat diabetes in people. There have been so many more milestones since then, including cracking the atom, the synthesis of new materials like nylon and carbon fiber, explorations of space, the computer revolution and gene editing. You can explore them on our Century of Science website, which augments our archive of more than 80,000 original news reports chronicling this remarkable time.
In this issue, we mark our 100th birthday by telling the “history of us.” It starts with newspaper magnate Edward W. Scripps and zoologist William E. Ritter deciding that a public well-versed in science was essential for a democratic society. What was needed, they determined, were journalists who specialized in science and could describe its complexities accurately and clearly.
When I started out in journalism, science was a robust beat, with dedicated newspaper sections, magazines, radio and TV shows. But back in the 1920s, there was no such beat. Our predecessors were inventing it, article by article.
And as science journalism evolved, so did the technology we used to connect with our audiences. At first, a paper bulletin was mailed to newspaper editors so they could reprint our articles. Readers clamored for a publication they could subscribe to, which eventually morphed into the magazine we print today. Then there’s that internet thing. Last year, more than 23 million people read our stories online, most often on their smartphones, and many through social platforms. Facebook and Twitter were launched less than 20 years ago. I can’t imagine how we’ll be reporting to you 20 years from now, let alone 100.
Our journalism has also changed. In the early decades, our editors and reporters could often be science boosters, eager to convince the public that discoveries would change life for the better. That approach seems weirdly naïve, as when we reported that wall paint infused with the pesticide DDT would make a great home upgrade. We also ran stories that today we recognize as racist, sexist and morally wrong in other ways. Our failure to challenge the false science of eugenics, which was used to justify the atrocities of Nazi Germany, will remain an enduring stain on Science News.
Now we are well aware of the harms that can come from science. Our imperative as journalists is twofold: to be skeptical and questioning while looking broadly and deeply at the potential impacts of science and to explain how scientific research can help people better understand themselves and the world around them. That’s true today, as we cover what Russia’s attack on Ukraine means for space science. And it will be true for decades to come, as we continue to cover climate change and the future of our planet.
I’m honored to be part of the extraordinary crew of journalists launching Science News into its next century and am grateful to you, our readers and supporters, for making our work possible.