Scientific American and the Worm

If you like science, you know of Scientific American (SciAm). This is a science magazine that has been around in one form or another since 1848. From what I’ve seen, in the beginning SciAm was more like “Popular Mechanics” in scope and “vibe”. I am pretty sure of it, but if I am wrong, please tell me so!

Slide1

SciAm is a global magazine. It has a series of international editions that pretty much parallel the content of the English version. It also has some “spinoffs” like “Scientific American Mind” among others.

For a long time, SciAm has been the main source of science information for the interested layperson. There are others now, but I think that Scientific American has held its own over the years, at least partially. I love the magazine, but truth be told, in my opinion, the “Golden Age” of the magazine was between the 1940s to maybe the mid-90s. I have a collection of old article compendiums that are a delight to read even though the science may be a little dated.

Slide2

Reading older Scientific American articles gives you a perspective of the thought processes of the people who actually did the science. You see, SciAm has published articles from distinguished scientists; in a very real way, you “made it” as a scientist if you had a Scientific American article, like the following Nobelists among many other distinguished scientists:

Stanley Prusiner
Francis Crick
David Hubel
Bernhard Katz
My very favorite scientist, Julius Axelrod
and (drumroll please!!!!)
.
.
.
.
.
Albert Einstein (yep, that A.E.).

And for the record, I think that if Scientific American had been research-based in those times, people like Darwin, Wallace, Huxley & co. would have had articles there.

Lately, the depth of the articles has certainly diminished, in both length and detail. I am only speculating, but I feel that a big part of it is our society’s sad general disinterest on science and how it works as well as the current (and even sadder) trend of byte-size science… grrrrr (pet peeve). The magazine just had to keep up with the times.

Also, some lament that now not all articles are written by scientists as opposed to journalists and that in general, the overall quality of the magazine has diminished. Nothing wrong with journalists, there are excellent ones, as well as not-so-excellent ones. And this is true of scientists too; some are able to write at the layperson level and some aren’t; it is just a fact. That being said, I still enjoy reading the magazine, although sometimes I wish they would at least partially go back to its roots.
Anyway, worms, especially planarians.

In its 160-something year history, only once my good friend the planarian has graced the cover of Scientific American. This was the February 1963 issue, with a cover depicting “Planarian worm in Maze”.

Slide3

Last night I saw my friend and colleague Dr. Bob Raffa, who presented me with a copy of the actual February 1963 issue with the planarian on the cover as a gift, partly in celebration of the publication of my book, “The First Brain” (TFB); a title that incidentally, came directly from Bob

Slide4

I have the coolest friends…

I believe that the time is ripe for another planarian Scientific American cover, don’t you think?

(;-)

Unapologetic plug: I have organized a book giveaway on Goodreads. You may win one of two copies of TFB. Tell the world! You can find it here at the right side of the page or you can go here.

Thanks!

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10 Comments

  1. My dad used to have a subscription when I was a kid. I was always so enchanted by the covers! I did eventually go to school for biology, but life has led me to writing instead!

              1. Done! And I sent you a friend request, too. 🙂 Sounds like a very interesting book. When I was a kid, I used to say I wanted to find a way for people to regenerate their limbs.

  2. I see what you are saying and I understand, but the thing is over time, I see more and more students that state that they “don’t like science”, sometimes with a hint of pride in their words and it GRINDS me. Your Sagan quote is right on point. Science can be made digestible though; with an honest effort, for the most part is understandable to practically everyone, with the possible exception of areas where higher math is needed. Even then, a competent scientist can translate that scientific knowledge to everyone’s terms…

    **end of rant**

    (:-)

  3. I’m not sure I agree with the popular notion that people have no interest in science. I think it goes deeper than that. It seems to me that people just have to many other choices or contenders vying for their attention. Science writing takes effort to digest, some more than others, and when you compare that to movies, video games, pop culture, or general interest literature, those subject that require more effort will undoubtedly suffer in popularity as a result.

    As I see it, the only defence against this is to make the science more digestible, which I realise is no easy task, nor does it do the research any justice. But, as Carl Sagan said:

    “We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.”

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