From the Editor: 83.1 Evolution of Science Writing

Ilana Yurkiewicz | May 1, 2010

From the Editor: 83.1 Evolution of Science Writing

According to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, 44% of Americans believe that the media should have more science coverage. This number becomes even higher when looking at young adults alone, with 52% of those between the ages of 18 and 29 indicating that coverage of the subject is inadequate.

The message is clear: despite the many hyped warnings that other nations are surpassing the U.S. in the sciences, Americans do want to learn.

What that means is that the pressure is on the for the science writer. For many, the media is the primary – if not the only – source of scientific information. As a result, it is the science writer’s translation and not the original journal article that becomes quoted and re-quoted.

This translation has taken on different forms through the ages. In a 2009 Nature article, Boyce Rensberger coined three major phases of recent science reporting. The post-WWII era, he says, was the “Gee-Whiz Age,” in which the goal of science writers was to report on phenomena interesting in their own rights, aside from practical application. Soon after that, beginning with Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, began the “Watchdog Age,” where science became intertwined with its political, economic, and social consequences. Now in the “Digital Age,” with print outlets dwindling, the definition of science writer has become looser; anyone with a keyboard and Internet access may broadcast to the public.

As the nation’s oldest college science publication, with our first issue published in 1894 (then called the Yale Scientific Monthly), the Yale Scientific Magazine has certainly undergone changes of its own. A look through our archives tells us that the 1920s and 1930s focused on engineering and applied physics; the 1940s, predictably, concentrated on science related to war; the 1950s discussed applied physics and space exploration; and the next two to three decades looked at emerging molecular biological findings and applications in medicine.

Today, science media organizations face an issue of audience. Namely, what is the point of a science article? Whom is it trying to reach, and what is it trying to tell them?

My answer to those questions, of course, is only on behalf of our publication. The Yale Scientific Magazine has a certain freedom and luxury. We focus mainly on research at Yale, but also sprinkle in what we find interesting outside of the University. Targeting audiences of all backgrounds, we strive to paint a broad picture of scientific reality across numerous disciplines and to introduce our readers to subjects they may not get elsewhere. Even more ambitiously, we hope that something you read in this magazine will inspire further pursuit of the topic. It is a lofty goal, and perhaps a corny one as well, but we aim for some of these ideas to remain in your mind even after the magazine leaves your hands.

As our website says, “Today, Yale Scientific Magazine strives to narrow the gulf between the sciences and humanities at Yale… the magazine hopes to unite the various science departments in a common knowledge of each other, as well as to depolarize [those] who are often obsessed with or aloof from the sciences. Either extreme is antithetical to a liberal arts education.”

It has been a privilege serving as Editor-in-Chief. I look forward to seeing the evolution of the Yale Scientific Magazine in years to come.

Ilana Yurkiewicz