The first issue of Scientific American was published on August 28, 1845, so it’s another eight months until our 175th birthday. But we’re kicking off our anniversary year right away with some exciting changes to your monthly issue, most conspicuously a redesigned cover that harks back to the white space and square images used in the 1940s and the latter half of the 20th century.
We’re also reintroducing poetry in a new column, Meter, edited by Dava Sobel. The magazine’s founder Rufus Porter ran two poems on the cover of the first issue, and that tradition continued beyond his relatively brief tenure until September 15, 1849. Thereafter, such stanzas seem to have mostly disappeared except for a short flourishing in 1969, when we published no less than W. H. Auden and John Updike, in addition to a reader’s lovely ode to a quasar, which ran in the Letters section. Now we begin anew with a panegyric to the late 17th-century naturalist and scientific illustrator Maria Sibylla Merian by Diane Ackerman.
Naomi Oreskes, a historian of science at Harvard, is also joining the lineup with a new column, Observatory, where she’ll cast a critical eye on the ways science helps us ascertain what is true and false in our lives and in the world. She starts by warning journalists not to fact-check scientific judgments.
Elsewhere Scientific American‘s resident historian Dan Schlenoff is adding a pithy Epic Tales commentary to 50, 100 & 150 Years Ago about big stories’ evolution in our pages over the decades. He looks at entertainment technology from the late 19th to the early 21st century. If you’d like more snackable tales along these lines, look for the Artifacts from the Archive series, which will be appearing weekdays on ScientificAmerican.com and our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram channels throughout 2020.
Other anniversary-themed content over the coming year will appear in commemorative issues and online reports. In this month’s Graphic Science, Jen Christiansen, our senior graphics editor, and data designer Nicholas Rougeux showcase the color scheme of all 5,148 covers of the magazine since 1845. (Visit www.sciam.com/175-covers for the interactive visualization.)
Meanwhile we will keep publishing the usual mix of in-depth articles about the most important advances in research and discovery. January’s cover story by David A. Raichlen, an evolutionary biologist, and Gene E. Alexander, an expert in brain imaging and neuroscience, reveals why the surprising connection between exercise and brain health may trace back to traits that developed at the dawn of humankind. Contributing editor Claudia Wallis examines progressive techniques for weaning chronic pain sufferers off debilitating opioids without agony. Astrobiologist Caleb Scharf revisits the famous question about alien life that physicist Enrico Fermi posed over a lunch in 1950, “Don’t you ever wonder where everybody is?” And we wrap up with a special report, “The DNA Drug Revolution,” produced independently with the support of UPMC, about treating genetic diseases with genetic material itself.
As events unfold in 2020, we look forward to celebrating the history and the future of science with you.
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