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Darwinism: Scientific American in trouble?


In “Scientific American’s Editor and Its President to Step Down”, (New York Times, April 24, 2009), Stephanie Clifford notes

In a shake-up at Scientific American, the longtime editor John Rennie and the magazine’s president, Steven Yee, are leaving.

Rennie had been around since 1994, and was associated by various people I talked to with an aggressive slant toward Darwinism and multiverse theory.

This article by Max Tegmark, promoting four layers of multiverses – essentially to avoid the implications of the fine tuning of the only universe whose existence we can verify – may have been the oddest moment in the history of a magazine that dates back to 1845.

I’ve heard various figures quoted about the staff reductions, ranging from 5-30%. But it’s hard to say because many staff may have gone freelance (or, as the elite would prefer it, “became consultants”) or been reassigned to other divisions of the parent company, MacMillan.

Some friends have supposed that the decline was due to the ideological slant of the mag, which was increasingly at odds with that of the public. I think it had more to do with the recent 18% drop in ad revenue. A friend remembers glossy car ads, but these days that may even be politically incorrect.

Some of my friends cancelled their subscriptions to Scientific American, when it became increasingly political. However, most readers probably did not stop reading media like SciAm because they became more ideological. The process was actually the opposite. Magazines like SciAm became more ideological when they became less necessary for the purpose of delivering information.

In general, the more necessary a news source is, the less ideological it can afford to be.

If there is only one local weather forecaster in a rural county, he better not be using his forecast to stump at length for some odd cause. The farmers will make short work of him.

And I wonder how often air traffic controllers are allowed to bug pilots with their opinions about the government or the economy?

It is now so easy to get news from so many different sources that the readers scattered, and major media could no longer maintain their ad rates.

This is happening at major media worldwide. Some commentators are calling for government bailouts, and many journalists’ lists sound like a shearing shed somewhere in Australia [bleat, bleat, bleat].

(I can’t think of a worse solution than a bailout, of course, because the change is a natural one, caused by the redundancy of information sources. Should the government have rescued companies that sell carbon paper and whiteout in the 1990s? Why?)

Anyway, we shall see.

It was probably all of the above. I had an SA subscription out of college in the early 90s. Then it lapsed as life got busy, and I'd buy an issue here and there. Then the interwebs made it less necessary. Then I learned more about its increasing slant and so stopped buying even the occasional copy. rswood
"Why pay for something that is free?" For that matter, how many people still purchase Newsweek or Time? I'm curious. I used to buy all 3 (Newsweek, Time, U.S. News) on a weekly basis. Not any more. I used to also buy SciAm once in a while, if it had an article that interested me, but I get far more info off the internet, so why bother? CannuckianYankee
If the American Scientist is getting down it's probably because there are less and less people interested in Science nowadays and that we can always access an article on the internet (on website such as ScienceDaily). Why pay for something that is free? Kyrilluk
The first time I read Scientific American was around 1977, when I was in grade school. At the time, I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever read, even though I didn't understand much of it. Now it's so watered down it's pitiful. herb
I awaited the monthly arrival of the Scientific American with anticipated pleasure until sometime in the late 80's when they wouldn't shut-up about the ozone hole. Feeling that they had lost their way, I let it go. Sadly, I can see no reason to re-subscribe. jerry_w
sparc, Social Darwinism != Corporate Darwinism. Confusion is understandable though, seeing that Darwinism is simply a synthesis of capitalist economics with biology. Maybe you can protest this horrible "social Darwinism" by purchasing an 8-track tape player for your Model-T. angryoldfatman
sparc, When a technology is no longer needed, it gets retired. Do you still have your childhood skates? Thinking that government should not spend public money to bail out industries that are failing because the public has turned elsewhere for the service is not a form of social Darwinism. It's just common sense about how to spend the tax dollar. Investing in cutting edge research that builds future jobs would make far more sense. jtaylor, like most journalists, I protect my sources when I have not asked them if they want to go public. However, it may sometimes be convenient to quote an informed opinion without attribution, and you can take it seriously or not, as you wish. O'Leary
I know this is just a blog, but this article seems to be following a trend lately in that it seems to be relying a lot on hearsay which cannot be confirmed... "I’ve heard various figures quoted..." "Some friends have supposed..." "A friend remembers..." It's kind of hard to take these type of pieces very seriously when they are sourced in such a way. JTaylor
Denyse, Great point about bailing out major news services. Hey, I love good old newspapers as much as the next guy, but if the market drives them out of business, so be it. It's not the government's responsibility to keep alive outdated companies and services. uoflcard
Here's audio of John Rennie giving the New York City Skeptics' first public lecture. (He's on the advisory board.)
Magazines like SciAm became more ideological when they became less necessary for the purpose of delivering information.
I'm not sure that's true, at least in the case of the academic journals (which doesn't include SciAm, of course). John Maddox's arrival at Nature in 1966 made Nature both more ideological and more successful. anonym
I can’t think of a worse solution than a bailout, of course, because the change is a natural one, caused by the redundancy of information sources.
Sound as if you appreciate social darwinism when it comes to economics. sparc
Ooops, forgot to ask, what general science magazine(s) do you recommend instead? Sabio Lantz
I am a Buddhist atheist and I stopped Sci Am because of its political position and I must say, I am not a fan of multiverse nor string theory -- instead I like quantum gravity theory. Sabio Lantz
I quit Scientific American long ago, and never re-subscribed, for three reasons. The strong ideology was one reason. The other two were the reduced emphasis on mathematics and the poor quality of the news reporting. So ideology was one factor, but not the only one, for me. rorydaulton

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