for Science News set the gold standard for such coverage,
which led the American Astronomical Society’s Division for
Planetary Sciences to name its journalism award in his honor.
For three decades, Jonathan’s in-depth reporting swelled
our pages with detailed accounts of planetary science — not
the heroics of astronauts or the politics of funding, but what
scientists were turning up from sensors and imaging and
chemical sampling. An indomitable reporter, Jonathan would
camp out for weeks (sometimes on his own dime) at NASA’s
Jet Propulsion Laboratory to make sure he heard everything.
Enter his smoke-filled office, and you would almost always
find him on the phone fact-checking some claim.
Of course, Jonathan is just one of the countless dedicated
reporters who have written for Science News. Roughly
100 interns learned science journalism here. Several dozen
staff writers — many staying a decade or more — lent their
voices to assessments of which events to cover, and how. Along
the way, many won awards from organizations ranging from
the National Association of Science Writers and the American
Physical Society to the Free Press Association. And the biggest
honor — a prestigious George Polk award — went to the
magazine in 1987 for excellence in science reporting.
For all its accomplishments, Science News also covered
what — with 20/20 hindsight — proved silly, frivolous or
simply absurd. One favorite: a 1956 report suggesting that
within 20 years, electric ranges and wall ovens “will be
replaced by a marble counter top that heats to roast the
meat or bake the pie and then, in a moment or two, is cold
enough to touch and use as a counter or table.” Afterward,
ultrasonic waves would wash the dishes in three minutes
(10/13/56, p. 231). A 1961 story forecast that “future vacationers could be taking a round trip to the moon for the
bargain price of $600.” That price doesn’t include tips,
though, the story noted (5/27/61, p. 328).
Some midcentury stories made me shudder. A 1948
story described fluffy dish towels made from absorbent
fabric that was 80 percent cotton and 20 percent asbestos. Readers were invited to purchase a sample for
50 cents from Things of Science, an experiment-of-the-month program run by Science News’ parent organization,
tioners could be taking a round trip to the moon for the story described fluffy dish towels made from absorbent
’ parent organization,
Janet Raloff, a Science News staffer for 34 years, spent
nearly a year poring through the magazine’s archives.
A postwar story described tests of nuclear weapons that
could be used against ground troops (9/29/51, p. 195). Plans
for peaceful analogs included excavating a new Panama Canal
and a harbor in Australia using nuclear explosives (9/5/64,
p. 149; 2/15/69, p. 159; 11/1/69, p. 408). All this at a time when
story after story reiterated concerns over radioactive fallout.
Such stories were the exceptions, though. Discoveries that
would withstand the test of time — including many that later
won Nobel Prizes — were reliably reported in our pages. A
And we covered not just the breakthroughs, but the unfold-
ing of science blow-by-blow. In medicine, not only cures
made our pages, but also the testing of flu and polio vaccines,
the risks, setbacks and minor successes. Photo-filled stories
depicted cultural artifacts being unearthed around the world.
And as evidence for each new subatomic particle materialized,
Science News was right there, analyzing the data and piecing
together how each find might cement — or alter — humankind’s
understanding of the universe.
We still do all that — but no longer only in print. Most stories
now appear first online or via an app for your iPad. But trust
us: Though the formats may change, our commitment to relating new developments in science and technology hasn’t. s