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No More SciAm
April 23, 2009 5:33 PM   Subscribe

The death of SciAm. It's no secret that print media is getting hit pretty hard, but the butchering of Scientific American seems particularly brutal.

More opinion on the poor state of affairs in science journalism

BloggingHeads discussion on the future of science journalism with Carl Zimmer and Chris Mooney

Some idiots blame the blogosphere
posted by rosswald (50 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
For the bloggingheads link, just click the part below the video: "the future of science journalism," if you don't want to listen to the whole thing.
posted by rosswald at 5:39 PM on April 23, 2009


.
posted by everichon at 5:40 PM on April 23, 2009


Maybe I missed something, but how does this news constitute the "death" of Scientific American? As near as I can tell, they've lost a few editors and will be sharing operational staff with another magazine. But there's nothing here that says they'll be ceasing publication, or even changing editorial direction -- the outgoing editor-in-chief himself says he's "pretty confident there are no specific plans" to change the magazine.
posted by jjg at 5:48 PM on April 23, 2009


Blogosphere, lol. The only thing killing SciAm (if firing an editor who's served less than 10% of the publication's lifetime can be called the "death of a magazine") is increasingly bad science writing.

For my birthday I subscribed to a paper science magazine. Did I choose SciAm? No, I chose Seed. Relevance without seeming faddish, informative without treating me like an idiot and also without treating me like I need acres of WRITING!! surrounding the science information.
posted by DU at 5:52 PM on April 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


Something is happening here and you don't know what it is, do you, Mr Chu?

I wish I could share your optimism, jjg, but the re-organizational PR boilerplate sure sounds like SA is circling the drain. I do hope I'm wrong.

It's all cowboys riding dinosaurs from here on in, folks.

.
posted by Kinbote at 5:55 PM on April 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


This is unfortunate, but editorially Scientific American has (from my own limited perspective) been on the decline for the last ten years. But it's odd; I don't think it's declined as rapidly and as uniformly as most magazines. I only mean that I saw a lot more popularization and a lot less of what once made the magazine great: those incredibly technically-detailed and well-researched articles that were also written carefully with the layman reader in mind - and without being condescending about it, to boot. This was just so damned cool, and unfortunately increasingly rare: a magazine you could read that actually taught you more about science and helped you understand complex and interesting scientific concepts. I don't mind the Scientific American of today, of course, but it's seemed to me for a long time that articles are finally splitting into "expert" and "dumbed down" categories rather than remaining a careful synthesis of the two.

Of course, this big, rather annoying change has nothing to do with that.

first link: I also asked [now former editor-in-chief John Rennie] about rumors that Macmillan is looking to reposition the magazine as a broader-reach vehicle for general interest, "news you can use" science stories. "I'm pretty confident there are no specific plans in place about any real changes coming on the edit side," he said.

Good. I'd hate to think that Macmillan decided to let Scientific American go just to let it become another New Scientist.
posted by koeselitz at 5:55 PM on April 23, 2009 [9 favorites]


As long as we have the bible to turn to for our science news, I don't see how shrinking or losing Scientific American is a big deal. The average american is incredibly science-illiterate and the schools aren't doing much to stop that trend.

The Weekly World News seems to be doing OK. Maybe I'll pick up a copy and find out what the aliens are planning for us this week.
posted by double block and bleed at 5:58 PM on April 23, 2009


I'd be a little stunned to see it go. I'll never forget that moment of shock when I realized SciAm is older than Canada.
posted by Decimask at 5:58 PM on April 23, 2009 [5 favorites]


For my birthday I subscribed to a paper science magazine. Did I choose SciAm? No, I chose Seed.

I just canceled my subscription; it pained me so to even see the publication. Cocktail party science-policy talk for the corporate class. My favorite issue included a photo of a haitian child literally eating mud, with some cute caption. They even tried to put a happy face on science policy during the bush years.


the horror, the horror.
posted by geos at 6:02 PM on April 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


I hope they start to deal with more popular science topics.

I mean, Popular Science topics.
posted by GuyZero at 6:03 PM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


The Weekly World News seems to be doing OK. Maybe I'll pick up a copy and find out what the aliens are planning for us this week.

Hate to break it to ya...
posted by ALongDecember at 6:06 PM on April 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


The Weekly World News seems to be doing OK. Maybe I'll pick up a copy and find out what the aliens are planning for us this week.

Weekly World News halted print publication in 2007.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:07 PM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


I believe I am contractually obligated in these discussions to point out that American Scientist is now and has always been awesome. If you want some real science written by real scientists (for a general audience), there you go.
posted by echo target at 6:07 PM on April 23, 2009 [9 favorites]


I also think Seed is a better magazine--very much a Wired for science, though (in fact, I imagine that's how it was pitched).

On the other hand, I applaud SciAm for not falling as far or as fast as Popular Science and Popular Mechanics (to be fair to PM, though, the rise of Make seems to have put the fear in 'em a little).
posted by box at 6:07 PM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


At this point, is there any reason to care if SciAm died? As far as I'm concerned, the magazine truly died years ago.
posted by happyroach at 6:16 PM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


The name Scientific American will continue, but it doesn't seem like the magazine will function as it has in the past (and thats a pretty long past).
posted by rosswald at 6:18 PM on April 23, 2009


I applaud SciAm for not falling as far or as fast as Popular Science and Popular Mechanics...

Ouch, good point.

...Wired for science...

I don't think I'm familiar enough with Wired to really know what this means. My feeling on Wired is that it's trendy and has little depth but pretty good graphic design. Seed has the graphic design (maybe a little too much, in fact) and is possibly trendy, but also has depth. You see, SciAm, you have time to talk more about the science when you omit the opening 2 folksy paragraphs describing trying to make the scientist "seem human" and the closing 3 detailing how the Breakthrough Of The Week Will Cure Cancer.
posted by DU at 6:19 PM on April 23, 2009


1. The Weekly World News has become a section of Star. I'm glad it's still around in some form.

2. I think Scientific American started going downhill when they stopped their recreations column.
posted by JHarris at 6:26 PM on April 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Indeed then, Scientific American has gone to Seed. Or to be punningly accurate, has gone back to Nature. Surely they can Discover the Popular Mechanics that will allow them to be a voice in the Wired world we live in.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 6:31 PM on April 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


I also think Seed is a better magazine--very much a Wired for science, though (in fact, I imagine that's how it was pitched).

Nope: I wrote for Seed in its early days and I can tell you first-hand that it was pitched as Vogue for science. Really!
posted by escabeche at 6:38 PM on April 23, 2009 [7 favorites]


They should do a Wired for stuff that used to be in Wired.
posted by Artw at 6:41 PM on April 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


No more Discover or Scientific American, more Seed and Pharyngula.

Then there's The Loom...which will probably move back to scienceblogs.com eventually.
posted by inoculatedcities at 6:46 PM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


After spending untold hundreds of hours reading Scientific American during my teens and 20s, I mourned its death about 10 years ago and switched to American Scientist. It is a far better magazine.
posted by neuron at 6:46 PM on April 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


Seed has the graphic design (maybe a little too much, in fact) and is possibly trendy, but also has depth.

what depth? SEED seemed to be mainly personality interviews with science bureaucrats with the occasional deep wanking from someone on the cocktail party circuit. in the three months my SEED subscription plagued me I can't recall any article that was actually about any specific science, other than an occasional overview of some 'paradigm shift' in some investment friendly bioscience subdiscipline.

ugg. what a disgusting magazine.

SciAm like the New Yorker used to long and boring, that's what made it interesting. but there's no room for anything other than infotainment anywhere.
posted by geos at 6:48 PM on April 23, 2009 [5 favorites]


I loved SciAm 20 years ago, just like I loved Byte. And it's pretty clear that what's happening to SciAm is what happened to Byte just a couple years before it dried up and blew away. Once the guys doing the research and science are no longer writing the articles, I no longer have any interest in it. Sorry, SciAm... I loved you, but I stopped subscribing ten years ago when the paper got as thin as the writing.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:58 PM on April 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


what depth?

Well, depth probably isn't the word I want. Focus, maybe. In any case, it's not quite the disposable horror you are describing. When was this 3 month sub that you had?

(BTW, I fully expect/hope Nova to be next. They have, if anything, fallen even farther in quality than SciAm in the same amount of time.)
posted by DU at 6:59 PM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh man, that's so disappointing. Scientific American has always been my favorite magazine, even after the annoying changes they made a few years back.
I'll see what happens, I guess.
posted by mrnutty at 7:08 PM on April 23, 2009


Indeed then, Scientific American has gone to Seed...

I gave you a pity-favorite.
posted by Ritchie at 7:37 PM on April 23, 2009


Hopefully Scientific American Mind dies along with it. I picked it up once expecting deep coverage on cognitive science topics. What I found was good science warped into a Cosmo wannabe. Ugh.

Maybe Make can pick up slot, and there's always MIT Technology Review.
posted by formless at 7:37 PM on April 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Err, pick up the slack that is / fill that slot.
posted by formless at 7:39 PM on April 23, 2009


Good, I never could stand Scientific American. They'd take a subject that seemed interesting and ramble on about it for three times longer than I wanted to read at which point not only did I not want to read about it any more but I hated the subject.

I'll keep reading American Scientist though,
posted by Confess, Fletch at 7:44 PM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


* mourns Omni *
posted by everichon at 7:49 PM on April 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


SciAm like the New Yorker used to long and boring

I cancelled my SciAm subscription when I found I could get through entire articles without becoming confused. It felt more like a journal back in the day, than a magazine.

I also recall, shortly after one of their recent makeovers, reading a lenghty article on some new bioscience research coming out of some biotech company or other. On the page facing the beginning of the article was a glossy, full-page ad for the very company profiled in the article. I checked the letters-to-the-editor page for a few months after to see if anyone called them out on that. Nobody did. Guess I should have done it myself.
posted by Bummus at 8:10 PM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


On the page facing the beginning of the article was a glossy, full-page ad for the very company profiled in the article. I checked the letters-to-the-editor page for a few months after to see if anyone called them out on that. Nobody did. Guess I should have done it myself

I think you're leaving something out of that equation.
posted by longsleeves at 8:31 PM on April 23, 2009


BuH? I don't know if should be incensed or pity flattered.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 8:46 PM on April 23, 2009


When they say Nature, do they mean this Nature?

If so I'm kind of thinking they're going to stop worming their way to becoming a, "Hey look, when I use bleach instead of phosphate buffered saline in the media, these cancer cells die - CURE ANY DAY NOW!!!!" kind of publication and get back to, you know, science.

I mean I can hope, right?
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:06 PM on April 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Anybody here remember Smithsonian Magazine? Man, that was a great magazine. And they had that great catalog where you could buy paper clocks and jeweled pendant animals modeled after Ancient Greek originals in their collection.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:07 PM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


When they say Nature, do they mean this Nature?

No. They mean this Nature. They'll be a subsidiary of a subsidiary of Macmillan, which is, of course, a subsidiary of Holtzbrinck.
posted by mr_roboto at 9:22 PM on April 23, 2009


Then there's The Loom...which will probably move back to scienceblogs.com eventually.

Why would the Loom move back to scienceblogs?
posted by delmoi at 11:09 PM on April 23, 2009



I cancelled my SciAm subscription when I found I could get through entire articles without becoming confused. It felt more like a journal back in the day, than a magazine.


exactly.


Good, I never could stand Scientific American. They'd take a subject that seemed interesting and ramble on about it for three times longer than I wanted to read at which point not only did I not want to read about it any more but I hated the subject.


which is why we can't have nice things. you can't actually learn anything without being confused and/or tired-of-it-all for a significant amount of time. learning is, like, hard.

of course, the original SciAm was a relic of the 19th fad of self-improvement. it was more about the idea that you could learn just about anything if you had the will-power than actually doing it. but i still worhsip at that church anyway...
posted by geos at 6:11 AM on April 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


I miss the old SciAm, too. I was never a subscriber; whereas I was a subscribed to Science News for many years. If I was to do a science magazine again, I'd go back to that. It was a weekly, back in the day, but it's gone bi-weekly now.

New Scientist.com used to be pretty good, too, but I haven't had a close look at it in a while; it seems to have been dumbed down a bit, too.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 7:03 AM on April 24, 2009


DU: "Seed has the graphic design (maybe a little too much, in fact)..."

Seed
's illustrations are incomprehensible. They have a fondness for putting the captions on one page and the illustrations on the other with a teeny dotted line between the two.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:07 AM on April 24, 2009


Editor in chief John Rennie and half a dozen or so of his underlings are leaving ... Rennie has held his job since 1994
1994 was the year SciAm started going to shit, full of undemanding articles about topics chosen for popular interest rather than scientific import. Maybe a new editor is a good change.
posted by Nelson at 7:43 AM on April 24, 2009


I've been really enjoying their weekly podcast with interviews with scientists. It's nice to get a slightly harder science perspective and holds me over until a new RadioLab releases. I'm wondering what they are going to do with that.
posted by edbles at 8:11 AM on April 24, 2009


I'm more amazed to find out from ALongDecember that Weekly World News and Star are published by the same folks as Shape, Muscle and Fitness and Men's Fitness.

Somehow, that makes the world make so much more sense.
posted by grippycat at 10:15 AM on April 24, 2009


Weekly World News and Star are published by the same folks as Shape, Muscle and Fitness and Men's Fitness

ALIENS BLASTED MY QUADS!
posted by GuyZero at 11:57 AM on April 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Science dudes, American Scientist is where it's at. American Scientist makes Scientific American look like Popular Science.
posted by heathkit at 10:31 PM on April 24, 2009


Civil_disobedient, Smithsonian is still around; I recently started reading it again. I like it even though I don't like jewelled pendant animals at all.

As for SciAm, I was really disappointed to realize that a lot of its marquee articles are written by the scientists doing the experiments. Articles like this can be illuminating, but they are not journalism; scientists can be as prone to boosterism as anyone else.
posted by coelecanth at 6:47 AM on April 25, 2009


Damn. I liked Sci-Am, but it is just wrong to put it into the Nature Publishing Group. Wrong, I tells ya!
posted by stonepharisee at 4:03 PM on April 25, 2009


SciAm back in the '80s was a hard read. I loved it. American Scientist is great, and I pick it up every so often at work to read over lunch.

While talking about the science journals that we miss, I have to draw you attentions to the New York Academy of Sciences late lamented "popular" magazine, The Sciences.
posted by djfiander at 4:23 PM on April 25, 2009


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