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Foreword It is a curious fact that in an age so dominated by the products of science and technology, there is a relatively low level of interest in the subject. As recently as twenty years ago, science-writing staffs hardly existed among newspapers. Even the largest newspapers have taken on science staffs only within the last few years. Before 1984, there were only nineteen newspapers in the country that had weekly science sections—mostly dedicated to health and medicine—although that number increased to sixty-six within two years. The controversies over AIDS and the increased public interest in preventive health contributed to this expansion, making health overwhelmingly the area of highest growth. Serious coverage of the non-health sciences remains at surprisingly low levels. Relatively few nonmetropolitan newspapers have science staffs; therefore, what few stories they run are off the wire. This makes for great blank spaces in the country, where local scientific and technological issues are virtually ignored by the press. Science writing has had distinct ups and downs in the 1980s. Science magazines seemed to briefly thrive in the early eighties, but by 1986 a number of them were in trouble. Scientific American changed owners, Omni and Discover were both losers despite extravagant efforts in photography and middlebrow editorial policies. Science 86 died. Market analysts say the reason for the weakness of science coverage is that the "natural audience" for science magazines is only five percent of the population, making it a thin and difficult market. This is a description after the fact, however, and may beg the more pertinept question of why this "natural audience" is so small. Looking back to the last century, we can see that there have been times when interest in science and technology was high. Marilyn Gaull's new book on the English Romantic period describes the early nineteenth century as a time when technological and scientific knowledge was fully comprehensible, and followed in detail, by large numbers of people, both by means of journalism and societies ofmany sorts, including the amazingly successful Mechanics' Institutes that were organized all over Great Britain. Science was understandable to interested parties partly because it was still spoken in the general language. Writers and scientists commonly shared the same stages for presentation of their works, particularly in the first half of the century; poets debated and defended scientific theories, and drew heavily upon scientific thought in their writing. In his preface to the Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth welcomed the "remotest" studies of the botanist and chemist. Shelley's work is laced with detailed allusions to science. SirHumphry Davy, one of the founders of modern chemistry, was a poet and publisher of poetry, and this sort of dual interest was by no means remarkable. Indeed, because intellectuals did not think as compartmentally as we do today, such intersts were hardly thought of as a "dual." One of the great causes of this interest was that the primary documents of scientific writing in the nineteenth century were both interesting to read and, in the context of received opinion, had astonishing implications. In his Principles of Geology, Sir Charles Lyell established that the forces which shaped the earth are still shaping it—sedimentation, earthquakes, erosion, vulcanism. These "uniform" causes were observable rather than supernatural, and they suggested a greatly expanded earthly time scale—from the 4000 years defended by biblical scholars to a breathtaking vista of hundreds of millions of years. Darwin's voyage of discovery was almost mythically dramatic: A young man of notably undistinguished achievement, he travelled to an island in the Pacific which was occupied by strange animals, and as a result of his five-year journey later wrote On the Origin of Species, laying forth a comprehensive theory of biological succession that not only rewrote biology but had extraordinary consequences in almost every field of science. The first edition of the book sold out in one day and started a raging controversy that is still going on a century and a half later. Or Heinrich Schliemann, successful businessman with a flair for the theatrical, who found Homer's Troy and the "Treasures of Priam." Schliemann has been called the Columbus of archaeology because although his...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 5-10
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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